How we saved Hertfordshire taxpayers £1m by reducing energy and carbon costs dramatically

James Heslam, Hertfordshire County Council Energy Manager

“Like many councils, Hertfordshire County Council was under pressure to make savings to protect front line services and to reduce our carbon footprint. In 2010 a Carbon Reduction Tax (CRC) was introduced, adding to the cost the council was paying for its energy usage.

Four years ago we set ourselves a goal to reduce our carbon and energy usage by 15% before 2018. But to our delight, we exceeded this target by three per cent – two years early. During this period, we have reduced the amount of carbon dioxide we are using by over 5,000 tonnes resulting in a saving of £1million for Hertfordshire taxpayers.

Following this successful carbon reduction, the county council is now set to hit an even more ambitious target by bringing the total carbon reduction to 24% by April 2018.

So how did we do it?

Armed with a tight budget, we embarked on a programme of carbon reduction across our corporate estate. The council has around 150 properties and I was aware through use of our AMR (Automatic Meter Readings) that the heating and cooling systems in the larger sites in particular were not operating efficiently.

After discussions with our facilities management contractor and sustainability consultant, we were able to make significant savings by improving the operation of our heating and cooling systems and our building management systems controlling them.

Soon I realised that we needed to extend this approach across to the rest of our estate; our libraries, fire stations, day centres and youth buildings. This was a challenge: every building was different with varying heating systems and controls. But we knew that small tweaks – even in the more basic buildings – could reduce energy consumption significantly.

For example, we found that typically boilers would be operating permanently when often it would be sufficient for them to only be doing so during working hours and for a small optimised time before hand. We introduced outside air temperature hold-offs which enabled boilers to switch off when the outside air temperature went above 15 degrees. We optimised the demands on boilers while they were in operation by linking this to the outside air temperatures and internal temperature set points we wanted them to achieve.

We realised that high consuming chillers were kicking in rather than making use of the cool air outside, using up a lot of electricity. So we began to automatically switch them on only when the temperature went above 17 degrees. By doing this, we ensured that chillers and boilers never came on at the same time – saving energy.

We introduced energy management policies such as office temperature ranges of 20-25 degrees and removed supplementary heating from our buildings which would interfere with the heating and cooling systems whilst adding to the energy bill.

We got the basics right in the first year and then we started rolling it out to the other parts of the estate in the second year, which took quite a long time. It was a juggling act as we were also trying to carry out LED upgrades throughout our properties. The work required a common sense approach coupled with technical expertise for some of the more complex items at larger sites.

We also introduced a few separate individual technical projects running alongside these activities, such as introducing hydro-zip taps across our main sites and a pre-cooling project in our Stevenage office, in which IT server rooms are cooled using air from outside rather than air conditioning units.

This is only the beginning

Now we’ve got our energy demand right down through the heating and cooling systems work, we also need to make sure through use of our AMR data and working with our technical teams that we maintain the high standards we have set. We also need to look at other opportunities to reduce our energy consumption, there are lots of things out there we can invest in, such as heating and cooling plant upgrades, insulation or renewables, but we need to look at those options and decide which are the most realistic to deliver.

Our LED programme remains a work in progress – we’ve still got more buildings that we need to look at but we’re at the point now where we need to be looking into the next steps in terms of capital investment opportunities.

The biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge of this work has been striking the balance between maintaining comfort levels in buildings, and keeping stakeholders on board while eliminating waste. We’ve managed to deal with any problems we’ve had along the way and deliver the project, while meeting stakeholders’ expectations.

Delivering a project of this magnitude requires three key assets. Attention to detail, perseverance and a diplomatic approach! I was also very lucky to have support from management on the project to allow me to pursue certain ideas and implement policies.

I’ve certainly learnt a lot about dealing with people and handling difficult situations, in addition to the many technical aspects of energy management.”

Five top tips:

  • Check the basic timing and temperature control of the building heating systems
  • Look at the more detailed aspects of the heating and cooling plant and make sure it is working properly
  • Regularly monitor the building through use of AMRs to make sure that what you put in place has not been changed
  • Look at the lighting in the building to make sure that it is LED
  • Consider any investment-based projects you might need to look at, focusing on the best return on investment

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