London -- Organisations that tighten the reins on their energy-hungry buildings will be key to meeting the UK's carbon reduction targets, the UK Environment Agency said 24 March.
Hotels, restaurants, shops and public-sector offices have the potential to make significant cuts in carbon emissions with minimal investment and are key to achieving the UK's target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
In April, new legislation will require organisations with high energy consumption to become more energy efficient and will provide financial and reputational incentives.
The Government scheme, known as the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, affects large energy users in business, industry and the public sector. A report by the Environment Agency suggests that the scheme could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 11.6 million tonnes per year by 2020 - the equivalent to taking four million cars off the road.
Around 5000 organisations will have to buy allowances for each tonne of CO2 they emit and be placed in a league table according to their energy performance. All the money is given back, with the best performers getting more than they paid for their carbon emissions, and the worst receiving less.
Retailers, the public sector and the hospitality industry together produce more than a third of the emissions covered by the scheme but could have the most potential to reduce their energy consumption.
Tony Grayling, head of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the Environment Agency, said: "Our research shows that around a quarter of the emissions from these sectors could be cut at no overall cost. In most cases the savings on energy bills will outweigh the costs of the energy saving measures."
Grayling added that, in shops and offices where most of the energy used goes towards running inefficient buildings, some very simple things -- better management of heating, air conditioning and lighting -- can be put in place and "will reduce energy use almost overnight and give big cost savings."
The EA cited various examples: Hilton Worldwide properties are to track their monthly utility consumption and operational performance. In the UK, the company has introduced more efficient lighting, voltage optimisation and variable extraction. It audits thermal insulation systems regularly and its building management systems aim to ensure all equipment is running at high efficiency. Such energy management has in the past three years led to saving of more than 45 kilotonnes of CO2, said the EA.
Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust has installed low energy light bulbs, motion-sensored lighting and day-lighting controls in the Trust's building. The cost of these modifications is recovered in six months to two years.
Sainsbury's supermarkets are focusing on improving store energy efficiency through simple steps such as installing sensor-controlled lighting and fridge blinds and changing staff behaviour, and stores that go through this process are showing average energy savings of 15 percent.
Initiatives at the Environment Agency itself have ranged from roof insulation to voltage optimisation and solar hot water heating, in a carbon-reduction programme that has already saved around £180 000 per year on energy bills.
As the EA points out, the plastics and specifically the polyurethanes industry is not exempt from this process and processors with at least one half-hourly electricity meter (a meter that records energy use every 30 min) during 2008 must register under the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme with the agency between 1 April and 30 Sept 2010.