Several weeks into the lockdown and while continuing to work from home – our portfolio of buildings largely unoccupied – there is plenty of time to reflect on the current situation.
As an energy manager, I’ve been considering the implications for energy management of the npower estate, while at the same time recognising there are currently much more important issues at stake.
Of course, leading by example and maintaining and improving energy performance, reducing environmental impacts and continuing to minimise unnecessary energy use remain a fundamental priority. But there is no getting away from its relative insignificance in the current circumstances.
Maintaining robust control of energy
For a business operating in a highly competitive environment it is, however, important that we maintain robust control of energy usage to minimise operating expenditure as far as practicable.
What was an optimal operation and maintenance strategy – based on careful balance of a multitude of factors – is presently redundant.
The ramifications of COVID-19 are far-reaching for the operation of a safe, compliant and effective workplace.
A step change in circumstances and associated risks and priorities necessitate dynamic revaluation of an operation and maintenance strategy, which alter energy management practices and outcomes.
Adapting to pandemic conditions
npower and our facilities management partner Mitie moved swiftly at the outset of the pandemic, evaluating the implications and maintaining awareness of emerging guidance and best practice.
Significant alterations to operational and maintenance activities were implemented to help mitigate risk of viral transmission in the workplace, such as maximising fresh air provision and disabling heat recovery and air recirculation systems.
Other measures we put in place included:
- Relaxing our workplace policy of keeping windows closed (to improve energy efficiency and controls stability) to maximise fresh air volumes.
- Demand-based ventilation systems were also adjusted to provide constant volume operation.
- Increasing flushing of water systems to maintain effective water hygiene in response to reducing occupancy.
- Extending ventilation run times a couple of hours either end of the working day to turnover and purge the air in the buildings and enhance indoor air quality.
At npower, we have long recognised the importance of indoor environmental quality for the health, wellbeing and productivity of our building users.
So fundamentals – such as effective monitoring and benchmarks and ability to control indoor-air-quality outcomes – paid dividends in terms of providing evidence-based reassurance to building users that indoor environmental quality and hygiene remained effectively managed to a high standard.
Like most businesses, our energy usage forecasts and performance against associated objectives and targets remain somewhat unclear, given the uncertainties regarding the timing of the reoccupation of our buildings. It seems likely that business as usual will be somewhat different for many organisations post-COVID-19.
Certainly, as our buildings closed and our workforce largely settled into working from home, just like other organisations, we had myriad factors to consider and decisions to make.
Shut up shop or keep running?
A key one being, do we decommission and mothball our buildings, and then seek to recommission them in the rerun-up to reoccupancy?
But then the contractor we rely on to provide specialist engineering services, such as statutory inspections, will likely be overrun with the ensuing backlog and competing client demands.
So we chose to maintain our buildings in a safe, compliant standby condition. For example, with enhanced water hygiene regimes and maintaining statutory maintenance and inspection where feasible and safe to do so.
By continuing to exercise our essential building services, we minimise the likelihood of deterioration, fault and failure due to lack of use (lifts, pumps, switchgear, valves and actuators etc).
We also ensure buildings remain in good condition and satisfy our obligations to landlords of leased properties.
While there is no doubt that net energy usage and expenditure will reduce as a result of the pandemic response, we can take satisfaction that what we are consuming remains justified and evidence-led.
Safety the key priority
I’m under no illusions that the priorities of keeping everyone – including our people, customers and supply chain – safe, well and supported is our number one priority.
While working from home during the lockdown, the capabilities of our energy monitoring systems (Intelligent Analytics and in:site) – and ability to remotely monitor and control building services via our Building Management Systems – have paid dividends in terms of effective energy management oversight.
My daily exercise regime and time spend working from my garden have provided greater opportunity for reflection and critical thinking.
Many long-standing issues and opportunities have been put to bed and realised respectively, due to fewer meetings and distractions.
CPD, admin backlogs and important but not urgent aspects, that had been somewhat neglected, are now being addressed.
It is impressive how many people – friends, colleagues and customers – have responded positively to the circumstances and seek to make the best of it they can.
I hope this is also the case for you. And if you need advice or support with your ongoing energy management challenges, remember our Energy HQ team of experts are here to help. Get in touch via your Client Lead (existing customers). Or email us at nBS@npower.com.