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Codes to promote more energy efficient buildings

Electricity use in commercial buildings accounts for about 40 percent of our overall electrical energy use in Bermuda. Of that amount, about 43 percent gets used by air conditioning alone.

In a relatively warm climate such as ours, the challenge is to reduce the amount of heat a building gains from the sun and from the activities within while minimising work the HVAC system has to do and still achieve aesthetically pleasing buildings with workable spaces within.

Traditionally, the operating cost of a building has not been the main concern of the designers, but with the gradual introduction of new building codes aimed at the reduction of energy use, there should be a growing trend toward designing all parts of a building to be optimally energy efficient.

The good news is that many steps toward efficiency needn’t necessarily be technological solutions. They can be measures as simple as providing shading to windows both inside and out and placing fewer windows and doors on the south and west faces of a building.

Part of keeping a building cool might even be by taking advantage of shading provided by vegetation around it.

Then there are many ‘invisible’ alternatives such as insulating walls and roofs, thereby slowing the rate of heat transfer. Limiting the amount and types of lighting can help as well, as many types of lighting give off a great deal of heat, for which the air conditioning system needs to then compensate.

There are also things that we can do in terms of how we manage and operate our buildings, which fall under the umbrella term “energy management”.

Most large businesses in other jurisdictions now have individuals hired as energy managers, whose specific responsibility it is to ensure that all building systems are operating to optimal efficiency, and also to ensure that building occupants are being responsible in their habits.

The measures employed by energy managers range from the low-cost (behavioural modification and energy awareness), to those that have a high front-end cost that achieve long term savings, such as building automation systems or “smart buildings”.

Finally, there is also the option of on-site renewable and alternate energy technologies that can be used things like solar photovoltaic panels to generate electricity, solar water heating where applicable, and possibly even combined heat and power generation in appropriate locations.

This last technology makes use of the waste heat from the process of energy generation by either directly using that heat-to-heat water, or by running that heat through an absorption chiller to make cold air.

In any case, the only businesses for which combined heat and power generation would work are specific locations that have a constant high demand for water heating or cooling.

To be clear, this process still uses fossil fuels, but makes much more efficient use of it than other traditional methods of electricity generation.

In order to encourage the uptake of all of these technologies, the Government will be phasing in changes to building codes over a period of time in order to best incorporate those requirements without causing undue financial stress to the construction industry.

Combined with that will be the creation of efficiency standards for building materials and systems, which, again, will be rolled out over a period of time.

Finally, the real underpinning to all of this is encouraging the use of meters and equipment that provide real-time information about energy use, and demonstrating the usefulness of energy auditing (a process by which a trained professional can assess your building and recommend a range of measures to reduce energy use).

Without the ability to monitor, and without the facility to have a snapshot of how you’re doing with regard to energy use, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine those things that need to change.

We are hoping to demonstrate the progress people can make with real-time monitoring in their homes with our Energy Limbo contest, which is ongoing, so stay tuned.

Victoria Place building on Victoria Street is one of the newer energy efficient buildings recently built in Bermuda.

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Published March 01, 2012 at 10:43 am (Updated March 01, 2012 at 10:42 am)

Codes to promote more energy efficient buildings

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