Software key to energy labelling

Copyright: David Lawson

Published in Property Week September 2008

Commercial property landlords are rushing to beat the October deadline for energy performance certificates following long-awaited approval of essential software to carry out the task.   EPCs are unlike the building surveys familiar to anyone involved in buying and selling property. Most work is done in the bowels of a computer, where calculations are made according to multitude of benchmarks ranging from the number of windows to the efficiency of boilers.

    The end result is a label much like that on a fridge or washing machine, showing a score which demonstrates what a prospective occupier will be getting. All commercial space let or sold will require these stickers from next month.  Different grades of software are necessary according to types of property. These have been ready for some time but could not be used until government advisers gave approval. Special qualifications are also necessary for inspectors to use the most complex packages, so landlords were biting their nails over whether everything would be in place in time for the deadline.

    The most straightforward method called the simplified building energy model (SBEM) should take no more than a day or so and cost anything from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. But huge uncertainties still hang over many modern office blocks, which may demand a more complex and expensive calculation called a dynamic simulation model (DSM).  The problem lies in the proliferation of features such as atriums, which affect calculations of factors such as lighting, says Fabien Joly de Bresillion, business manager for energy services at environmental consultant Bureau Veritas.

  This complexity was illustrated by the first DSM carried out in the UK by his firm and partner Integrated Environmental Solutions, one of the few groups qualified to handle this grade of inspection. Calculating an EPC on the 148,000 sq ft Exchequer Court in St Mary Axe, London EC3, required only half a day’s inspection but also involved a day poring through manuals and a massive seven days to input data into computers. The end result was a D grade - much as expected for a 10-year-old building of this specification, says de Bressillion, and probably no surprise to landlord Invista and manager Broadgate Estates. But they can now legitimately market the space.

   Whether this will mean much to prospective tenants remains to be seen. Thousands of landlords will face a dilemma as they go through a similar process in the coming months, as scores are only a tiny part of all this technology. EPCs were designed to provide recommendations how to raise standards, such as by replacing heating and ventilation or the fabric of a building. But this can be enormously expensive.

Software is being thrust into the limelight as times turn hard for property. Many managers admit privately to using only a fraction of the functions available in most programs, treating them mainly as calculators, calendars and filing systems.  IT trainers are now working overtime to explain previously ignored analytical and benchmarking techniques but as much effort is being devoted to a parallel increase in demand for ways to cope with green issues.

  Leading suppliers anticipated these new requirements and have spent several years incorporating new tools into mainstream programs. James Lavery, customer relationship team leader at Qube, says new functions created in response to customer demands include storing and reporting on climate change levy commitments, energy performance certificates and portfolio-wide energy use.

 Steve Vatidis, managing director of Raindrop Information Systems, which supplies the Manhattan management suite, says software can play an important role in helping property departments measure and meet sustainability objectives. ‘After all, if you can’t measure, you can’t achieve,’ he says.

  Raindrop has been investing ‘significant amounts’ in the sustainability functions in Manhattan for several years. ‘We see it becoming as important within an organisation’s key performance indicators as the control of funds or space, or the need to meet health and safety requirements,’ he says.

  Manhattan’s integrated structure provides an ability to monitor energy consumption in all its forms – whether gas, oil or electricity - both regionally and right across the organisational structure. Property departments can aggregate and ‘slice and dice’ their carbon footprint indicators, monitoring targets at all levels within the organisation. This means they can pinpoint the source of any deviations from their objectives – and identify the causes.

  ‘Over the three years that we have been engaging with organisations to help them improve performance from a sustainability perspective, we have seen a significant shift from sustainability simply being regarded as ‘desirable’ to something that is now essential and mandatory,’ says Vatidis. ‘This change is being driven by chief executives who now see sustainability as a target that is just as tangible as the need to meet financial objectives.’