The following article was written in March 2007 for the Energy Institute's magazine "Energy World" by our founding Director, Ashley Baxter.
Nottingham's Energy Manager of the Year moves on
On the night, no-one was more surprised to hear that I had been chosen as the Energy Institute’s Energy Manager of the Year 2006 than I was.
I had been passionate about environment issues long before I became involved with Energy Management. A green thread can be seen running through my career and my enthusiasm is also evident in my home life - until recently I cycled into work most days and kept chickens in the garden of my Nottingham home. In fact I think it was probably the chickens which swayed the judges.
I joined Nottingham City Council as Service Manager for Energy and Sustainability in 2001. At the time ‘sustainability’ seemed to be an aspirational add-on to a job that seemed to be mainly about ensuring bills were correct and paid on time. I soon learned a few rules of thumb for effective energy management. First of all, software doesn’t always deliver what it promises and many of the energy management systems in the market place are not as reliable or user-friendly as the sales staff would have us believe. Even the most modern BEMS and data capture systems are only as good as the people pressing the buttons and generating the reports. What’s the point of half-hourly data if it is only analysed every six months?
Secondly, a conspiracy of architects and accountants left alone can result in less energy efficient buildings. In some building projects I had to fight for even the most basic energy efficiency measures to be installed, thanks to a process ironically called ‘value engineering’. I still fear that many of the current ‘Building Schools for the Future’ initiatives around the country might suffer the same fate through lack of commitment to genuine whole life costing.
Turning a city green
While at Nottingham I did four things that seemed to impress the judges. Firstly I shifted almost all the electricity contracts over to ‘green’ supplies. This made Nottingham City Council one of the largest independent purchasers of renewable energy in Europe, and achieved at negligible cost to the Council.
Secondly, my team and I were responsible for the installation of over 200 half-hourly electricity meters. These not only enabled us to identify waste and unusual consumption, but also to tell everyone about it. The half-hourly metering The local paper sent the story to the front page - “Energy Spies To Slash City’s Bills”. As far as the Evening Post was concerned, I was Big Brother!
Thirdly, I was responsible for reducing overall Council water consumption by over 25%. This was achieved mainly by introducing sophisticated urinal controls and leak detection equipment into the Council’s ageing building stock. The controls were particularly effective in schools where the practice of allowing pipe work and fixtures to leak and flush throughout weekends and holidays was brought an end through an fairly easy technical fixes. The saving on the Council’s water bill is worth more than £300,000 a year.
Finally, and most importantly, I encouraged the Council to embed environmental performance indicators into the service planning process. This was the real litmus test of whether the Council was prepared to walk the walk on sustainable development. It wasn’t easy. Alongside my constant whinging, there were two other main drivers in ‘changing the system’, namely a Councillor scrutiny group into sustainable development and also the Local Authority Carbon Management Programme (LACM) co-ordinated by the Carbon Trust. Leading LACM for the Council was quite the most challenging project I was involved in. It involved collating a lot of data that should have been easy to find but wasn’t, and then using it to persuade managers, architects and engineers that improving environmental performance was both desirable and necessary.
The wider impact
Winning the Energy Manager of the Year award resulted in a many positive changes for my team, for Nottingham City Council and for myself. Firstly it further increased the awareness of the benefits of good environmental management across the Council. It was a great kick-start for a fledgling green champions programme and Carbon Management plan.
The award also contributed to an enhanced environmental image for the Council locally and nationally. Nottingham has been spotlighted for good practice in energy management in a number of national media articles since the award. The Energy Institute Award has contributed toward this positive image.
Ironically, just before winning the award I was offered a job as Director of an Energy Saving Trust pilot sustainable energy centre. This role offers many new challenges, but the award has increased my confidence and resolve in addressing the issues of the new post.
The sustainable energy centre represents a new direction for EST. It offers all the services of a traditional EEAC (Energy Efficiency Advice Centre) but also has a clear remit to champion renewable energy and green transport initiatives in the pilot areas. In my case this is Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The success of the Centre is judged not only in terms of volume of customer advice, but also by its impact on the capacity of the energy saving market place. This is reflected in the number and relative success of businesses in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency in the region.
My new role is to engage with installers, regional bodies, local authorities and customers to ensure effective co-operation towards the twin goals of improving energy efficiency and reducing the impact of climate change.
Since leaving the City Council I have been invited onto the Board of Nottingham Energy Partnership. This organisation is leading the expansion of small scale wind turbines in the city and has also facilitated the installation of hundreds of domestic solar water heating systems in Nottinghamshire. It also promotes energy efficiency as part of the wider healthy housing agenda for vulnerable householders. And it provides an opportunity for me to keep up to date with progress in Nottingham.
I led a team of six eccentric characters in Nottingham who were always telling me we were the best energy managers in the country – and it turns out we were!