Public Sector - Kildare County Council offices building

Senior management commitment is bedrock of public sector energy efficiency

10/08/2016 by Majella   Kelleher

As you drive along a well-lit street, attend a parent-teacher meeting, visit a local library or simply turn on a tap, the energy used to power these public services is probably not at the front of your mind.

However this energy costs the public sector, and the State, almost €700 million annually which is why it matters to all of us.

In the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan the government set a target for the public sector to be 33% more energy efficient by 2020. This is ahead of the general 20% target for the economy, recognising that the public sector should lead and be an exemplar to others. Perhaps even more critically, the savings that arise will benefit the exchequer through lower expenditure or facilitating higher levels of service delivery.

Public servants, conscious of the energy efficiency targets, cost saving opportunities and their responsibilities to the environment, have helped public bodies reach the halfway point to achieving the 2020 targets. Some exemplar organisations have already exceeded their target. All told the public sector has reduced its energy bill by €120 million annually. Recently these achievements were acknowledged internationally when the SEAI Public Sector Partnership programme was shortlisted for the prestigious EU Sustainable Energy Awards.  It was one of only three shortlisted from 80 nominations Europe-wide in the public sector category.

The challenges facing public bodies are very similar to those in other parts of the economy. While it might seem simple, the biggest challenge is ensuring that appropriate time and priority is allocated to the energy management role while managing a busy operating environment. At a recent energy forum for public bodies, Cork County Council Director of Services Sharon Corcoran said ‘Make sure senior management support is in place and have a dedicated champion to roll out your energy management programme’. Cork County Council are already well on track to their energy efficiency target and recently became the first local authority to be certified to the International Energy Management standard ISO50001.

At this stage much of the so called low hanging fruit has been harvested. These typically include behavioural change among building occupants and low cost investments in more efficient equipment, such as lighting. SEAI strongly believes that these basic steps should have been taken in all public bodies by now.

For some public bodies energy spend is so relatively small that it can be hard to justify the allocation of a specialist resource to managing energy. It can even be a challenge to identify a suitably qualified person to take on the role. This may not be a problem for a local authority, but it’s certainly a challenge for say a small rural school.  However, even here, we can learn a lot from the example set by some of our younger citizens. Adamstown Castle Educate Together National School have made €2,000 annual savings through a series of no cost measures that involved the whole school community. Students acted as energy monitors, leading energy saving actions in each class and to create greater energy awareness by operating a ‘traffic light’ system using stickers to alert classes to energy waste.

Our research shows that the top opportunities for saving in the public sector are energy efficient lighting, energy efficient glazing and more efficient boilers with heating controls. These measures require investment which can be difficult to prioritise ahead of service delivery. While conventional wisdom says that investments now will pay for themselves over time and continue saving thereafter, most public bodies operate with annual budgets which can impede projects with long implementation timeframes and paybacks.

However investments are being justified and made.  An Post, piloted an innovative building energy management system in the Blackrock Dublin Service Unit which cut energy use by a quarter. This system is being rolled out in An Post’s other 120 Delivery Service Units and is a great example of what can be achieved with modest investment and strong leadership. Other examples include RTE who installed a solar photovoltaic array and Iarnród Éireann completed substantial rolling stock and facilities upgrades making them 36% more efficient as a result.

The public sector, like the business sector, lacks any sort of homogeneity. Energy is put to all manner of uses from offices, hospitals, schools and fire-stations, to public water and lighting services, as well as vehicle fleets.  Public organisations also vary greatly in size from a few to tens of thousands employees, occupying one to hundreds of facilities. Despite the diversity of energy use, in many instances the solutions can be similar and have probably been implemented before by other public bodies. SEAI actively facilitates networking activity so that organisations can share their experiences and learn from others. This can be a powerful mechanism, particularly for those with limited resources.

Ultimately all public bodies must play their part in becoming more energy efficient and contributing to the national goals and Ireland’s international commitments. There are a range of approaches and solutions which must to be tailored and scaled to the organisation, focussing on where time and effort invested is likely to have greatest return. 

However the starting point is senior management commitment which is the bedrock upon which any plan must be based and without which the required results will not be delivered.

 
 

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