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The energy auditing and enforcement industry

Submitted by: MikeC (Admin) on 18-Mar-08 05:55:47 PM

This is a post I half-wrote last year but didn't get round to finishing.

However, when David Strahan said: '...the role of energy auditing and enforcement will be hugely important,' on the DEA Podcast last month (Peak oil, energy and climate change), I was reminded to do so.

Thermal image photography of heat loss from buildingsDuring a House of Commons debate on Climate Change towards the back-end of last year, Hazel Blears - then Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government - revealed that energy-inefficient homes in Leicester had been identified using thermal imaging:

Leicester has a hot lofts scheme, in partnership with British Gas and Mark Insulations. An area is selected using thermal imaging to see where the most energy is escaping, and the homes are then targeted.

Climate Change: 27 Nov 2007: House of Commons debates

So the worst eco-violators can expect a door-knock from the eco-police and offered free loft insulation, irrespective of household income.

It is not known if a red cross will be daubed on their doors.

This is not exactly fresh news to those living in Leicester, I grant you, but it was to me (and possibly you if you don't live there).

Eco-snooping technology

Some of you will be thinking: 'So what? That's good, innit?!'

Others will be thinking: 'Cheek of that!'

Still, others will be thinking: 'Hmm... Difficult one. Where's this heading?'

Exactly! Where is this heading?

Energy Performance Certificates

Already, there are more than 400,000 homes within the Government database containing intimate records of major energy-using assets, running costs and construction details, courtesy of the EPC.

That number will grow over time but eventually the Law of Diminishing Returns kick in; the point when fresh homes with no EPCs entering the market are fewer in number because occupants are quite happy where they are.

Homes will also come back onto the market with nothing done to improve their EPC rating - effectively amounting to duplicate information should another be needed.

Add to this a slowing housing market and you can see how Govt may be persuaded to adopt a more aggressive policy in order to meet its various ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions.

And there is growing evidence that Govt. is already becoming more aggressive (as if thermal imaging wasn't enough!).

Green Homes Service (GHS)

Part of the GHS remit, run by the Energy Savings Trust, will be to actively contact homeowners with low-scoring EPCs, to persuade them to improve their energy efficiency.

Presumably the GHS eco-police/salesmen - call them what you will - will be looking at the floorplans to your home and the capacity, efficiency and make of your boiler.

They might also call-up details on property construction, the location (and efficiency) of thermostats, light-bulbs, fireplaces, radiators, granny-flats, and the rest of the stuff recorded for an EPC, when (or before) they contact you.

They've got your number, mate... and it better improve the next time they call!

But what follows next is possibly where the tentacles of State-control can really affect our future behaviour - literally!

Smart metering - The appliance of compliance?

Energy companies and Government are gagging to install these into our homes.

Smart meter display

Indeed, the EU has ordered member states to take steps to provide customers with real-time information about their energy consumption.

UK Govt has stated in its Energy White Paper consultation document that new and replacement meters with "display devices" (for gas and electricity) will be mandatory from next year (2008) and all homes within 10 years.

A small note at this point: "Display devices" and "smart meters" are used inter-changeably in Government discussions.

Industry distinguishes them thus:

  • Display devices: Displays energy use in the home - Presumably providing more user-friendly information than available already.
  • Smart meters: Are interactive, more intelligent and can be remotely read and programmed by the energy company for billing and monitoring purposes.

The energy industry is concerned that Govt may legislate for the display device rather than the smart meter because of the following Govt statement, released when the Energy White Paper was published:

A requirement for new meters to come with a real-time display from [May] 2008 and a short term offer of free displays from energy suppliers for households to 2010. In addition, the Government is encouraging the introduction of smart meters, also with displays, in the household sector and for small firms and expects everyone to have a smart meter within 10 years, whilst requiring smart meters for all but the smallest of businesses in the next five years.

Source: Government News Network.

Confusing eh! To my mind it suggests that smart meters are a serious proposition from 2010, if not sooner.

Fill the stadium with C02

By the end of this month (March 2008), Malcolm Wicks, Energy minister at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, is expected to unveil a grand plan detailing how 26 million homes will be fitted with the new kit.

Meanwhile, the energy companies are busy seeding the "benefits" and green credentials of smart metering into the psyche of the populace. You know when energy companies and the influential Energy Savings Trust (EST) push out press releases targetted to a specific local town newspaper in Wrexham - to use just one example - that claims residents could save 16,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year just by looking at a smart meter, that there's some serious momentum already in progress.

The press release even suggests that the C02 savings is 'enough to fill the Millennium Stadium five times'. I mean, WTF does that mean? Are they trying to baffle us with just enough pseudo-pop-science to keep us from questioning? I can't even visualise what C02 looks like, can you?

(Just before we move on from its stated climate-change benefits, I wouldn't mind, but the article ends by conceding smart meters alone won't reduce emissions - Oh really! Bit like the Govt's pitch to the public when it states EPCs will reduce carbon emissions.)

But that's only the fashionable part of the sales patter (so politically-correct, merely questioning it kicks you into the orbit of the axis of evil), other "benefits for users", so goes the pitch, is that:

Smart meters help householders work out how much they are paying for their energy use and let people see in real time which appliances are producing the most CO2.

Whoopy-do! I can picture our new lives now...

"You watching the match tonight luv?"

"Nah, yer joking aren't ya! Got the lads comin' round with a crate of lager. Gonna slam a full load in the washin' machine and settle down in front of the smart meter - It's gonna be a reet good 'un!"

"Oh no you are not! Me and mum are watching that. She's comin' round with her washing and a bottle of wine."

Come on!

The benefits of seeing how much energy our applicances consume hardly merits a wholesale mission to convert every home in the country to smart meters, does it? If they can push press releases to sell us, they can just as effectively do the same to tell us.

(If it aint already obvious, try switching on your kettle, washing machine, dishwasher, freezer, hair dryer - either individually or seperately - and watch your meter spin. Job done. My consultancy fee is a snip at £1m, compared to the £5 billion cost of rolling smart meters out.)

And anyway, I have much more interesting things to do than know - on a minute-by-minute basis - precisely how much my energy usage is costing me.

So what else is the industry saying to lower our defences, sorry, to persuade us, then?

Of course, no more estimated bills. Well, that probably suits them more than us in the final analysis because most houses built since the late 70s/80s have meter access from outside of the property. Plus, if the bill is so offensive, we just call a number and give a correct reading to some automated system.

Having said that, maybe (at last) we're creeping a little closer to the real reason here...

Why smart meters?

Because of what they can do!

Back in August of last year (2007), Leeds City Council signed a deal with Bglobal Plc to install smart meters in its schools, sports centres, libraries, town halls and housing complexes (AKA: Council houses, I assume). Information from each smart meter can be aggregated to produce reports that show the Council, for example, which building left its upstairs lights on overnight.

That's some level of detail, donch'ya think!

Before I highlight one further feature of the smart meter, let me remind you of a phrase that has become part of political language of late: 'energy security' (or 'security of supply').

Energy security (or security of supply)

Muttered quietly alongside climate change, security of supply has a family of proposed cures: wind turbines; solar energy; micro-generation; wave power; tidal power etc.

In other words; free - or cheap - abundant, home-grown energy.

The energy horizon

North Sea oil is depleting at 10% a year - double initial forecasts. We are now a net importer of both oil and gas. By 2010 we are expected to be reliant on 50% imported gas - two years from now!

Five (short) years on, and 50% becomes 75%. bbl company - builder and operator of the gas pipeline stretching from Balgzand in the Netherlands to Bacton in the United Kingdom - cites 90% by 2016!.

Gas is the UK's primary energy-supply and main method of power generation.

Russia has lots of gas.

Many gas-power generators are due to be closed down over the coming years because of old-age. The timeframe for nuclear power-stations to take-up the slack is at least 20 years.

But by then, according to 'Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy' by the Energy Watch Group (pdf), things don't seem to look much better either: the short term until 2012 the world nuclear capacity will rather decline, than increase, due to ageing reactors and too few new reactors under construction. In the long term beyond 2030 uranium shortages will limit the expansion of nuclear power plants.

A dodgy world 

You get the picture, I'm sure: the world is a much dodgier place these days. There is growing global demand (competition) for energy resources - only last week oil breached an astonishing $111/barrel.

Security of energy supply is a real - and very serious - issue. Can you imagine life without energy?

Can you imagine the consequences of climate change without energy?

Whether you believe in climate change or not, the fight remains the same; reduce energy consumption and find an abundant supply of cheap alternatives, fast.

Fast means radical  - and radical means not necessarily welcomed intervention.

Irish energy minister, Eamon Ryan, takes all of those words very seriously. On a recent podcast with David Strahan he confirmed that his government is investigating the possibility of introducing some kind of energy rationing scheme to maintain the critical functions of society, such as waste disposal, water, hospitals, funerals, food supply, law and order etc...

Where was I going with this... oh yeah, what else smart meters can do:

Energy suppliers would be able to remotely disconnect and reconnect supplies

Energy Efficiency Partnership

It's extreme, but the ability is built-in and on its way - just in case. In the meantime, it serves the credit control departments of energy companies quite nicely.


Am I being paranoid? A bit conspiratorial perhaps?

Maybe, but ask yourself this: why is the energy industry and Govt. fighting over how, and who, will both install and foot the bill to roll the meters out? It's a privatised industry, afterall.

In fact, why is the Govt. involved at all?

If, as a nation, we are forced to spend too much of our discretionary income on basic fuel and energy needs, it hits the economy, badly. Just today, rising energy prices have been blamed for the sharp increase in inflation. High energy prices force-up the costs of goods and services - virtually everything we do in fact.

Purchasing power is diminished and the tax Govt. receives is clobbered.

Sufficient reason perhaps, to have an interest and be involved?

Energy enforcement

So am I against the potentially imposing smart meters?

Unfortunately, given that the era of cheap oil seems to be a thing of the past, and given that the world appears to be at, or near, peak production of the stuff, and given that - as a nation - our Balance of Payments will take a beating year-on-year, until we can rely less on energy imports and replace lost tax revenues etc., it's hard to object really.

An enforced policy of energy rationing may well be a bitter medicine to ingest as our infrastructure adjusts to a new era.

If you take information from the EPC, make it available to the GHS, and then add the potential sanctions smart meters can impose, I fear the stick is not too far away, should it be needed.

A final thought

Back in January, I flagged-up a webcast about commercial EPCs and DECs featuring - amongst others - Dr Carol Sweetenham from the CLG. One of the speakers posited a scenario [paraphrasing]:

'Imagine if supermarkets only had energy for a few hours a day'.

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Posts: 1
Reply #1 on : Fri April 04, 2008, 18:33:42
If Leeds are fitting smart meters in schools, then good, because I was a School Maintenance Officer (Caretaker in good old fashioned language) and although lights not being switched off is not a problem 'cos when we locked up we made sure they were off BUT in modern large schools (ours was 1500 headroll) there are literally hundreds of computers and we'd have been all night locking up if we had turned them all off. Even though staff were instructed to make sure children closed them down, this only happened for a day or so until a new reminder went out sometimes months later. Now if this happens in schools all over the country as an example, think about all the millions of computers in 'public buildings'. SO maybe smart meters are a good thing if it can stamp out this sort of waste - don't forget your taxes pay for all this wasted power,


Posts: 1
Re: The energy auditing and enforcement industry
Reply #2 on : Fri April 04, 2008, 19:27:25
Yes, that would be a useful application although computers don't like to be shutdown in quite so violent a way. And then there's also the possibility that a computer (or server) is purposely left on to perform a task(s) out-of-hours.

However, you do make a valid point.

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