Energy management at the NEC
How CBRE measures and reduces energy in one of the UK’s most well-known venues (Sponsored Content)
Report from – Michael Hardware
The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) is the most conveniently located venue in the country, situated within three hours’ drive for 75% the country’s population. It is located at the heart of the national motorway network, next to a mainline railway station and adjoining Birmingham International Airport. It is a huge complex providing over 182,000 square metres of covered indoor space across 20 interconnecting halls and 34 conference suites, in addition to over 160 acres of hard-standing ground and 75 acres of woodland, all catering for around two million visitors a year.
Construction started in 1973, with the final hall (16) completed in 2001. As well as the NEC venue, the NEC Group also looks after the Genting Arena (formerly the LG Arena), the International Conference Centre (ICC) and the Barclaycard Arena (formerly the National Indoor Arena) in central Birmingham.
The task of ensuring the venues run efficiently in terms of resources falls to Sean Prior. As energy manager for real estate advisor CBRE, dedicated to the NEC Group account, his remit covers all of the venues. “Thirty five years ago, the annual energy bill at the NEC alone was around £1m – it’s now around £4.5 m," he says.
Like many businesses, the NEC realises that building efficiency is important. This is not only in saving direct costs and in carbon emissions taxes through Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), but also in meeting its responsibility to the environment generally. The NEC board set a target in 2007 to reduce the group’s carbon output from energy usage by 60 per cent by 2050, very much in line with the Government’s own targets.
Before any energy saving initiatives could be considered, however, it was crucial to be able to accurately measure and understand current consumption in terms of where and when it was being consumed. NEC was capturing some data from various venues and halls on a monthly basis, but this did not provide enough quality information to be able to build profiles to analyse.
Measuring our consumption
The solution lay in smart meters. During 2014, a total of 850 smart meters were installed across the NEC, each updating every half an hour. This resulted in a huge increase in data – some 1.2 million readings per month – all of which had to be assessed and analysed. Phil Dyke, NEC group engineering manager, explains: “The analysis software produces usage profiles for different parts of the estate, enabling us to identify how much energy is used and during what periods, and this builds up a picture on a daily, weekly, monthly and ultimately annual basis.
“We can predict energy usage fairly accurately, and if pre-determined baselines are exceeded, an alarm will go off to alert us so we can investigate why. If the lights should go off at midnight and they don’t, the system will tell us.
“This also helps us with planning. In the past, we might have spent thousands of pounds in areas where we were making little difference, but now we’re measuring the profile for every hall, we know where we could make a significant impact and look to improve our existing technology, or even install new technology.”
The NEC has approached efficiency savings in a logical way; having created the usage profiles and evaluated the consumption, it then looked at what it could do to make reductions. “The uses of the halls vary considerably from day-to-day – they could be used for exhibitions or pop concerts, or annual conferences and product launches,” explains Prior.
“Our focus has been largely reviewing trends and baselines. There has been a major focus on the infrastructure costs – so, the overheads of the business, particularly when there are no events on.”
Prior says that although investment in new technology is an option in some areas, there are steps that can and should be taken first, which are not capital intensive and relatively simple. “It is easy to get bogged down with the scientific complexities, but cost-saving activities are, in many cases, dependent on attitudinal change of the people involved,” he says.
This is why CBRE’s team has embarked on an engagement programme to make staff more aware of the impact they can have. It has included simple methods for reporting faults, such as running taps, via a dedicated telephone helpline or through Twitter, and a poster campaign for staff focusing on the basics such as turning off lights, taps and computer monitors.
Prior admits that it is harder to make an impact when results are less obvious, which is where the smart meters come into their own. “They make us far more aware of the energy we are using, in real time, so we can take immediate steps to reduce waste, while also revealing anomalies, enabling us to ask why we are using so much energy at certain times of day or night, or during certain events,” he says.
Education has played a big part, both for staff and across the whole building services and facilities management team. CBRE has created ‘Energy Champions’, a role which was devised by Norland, before it was acquired by CBRE, and is now a key constituent across the entire business. It has worked well and proven its worth – Norland has won several awards for its staff energy awareness training including the CIBSE Training for Building Performance Award.
Energy Champions have been given full training in identifying and reporting problems and issues, and engaging with staff, helping to direct the business on energy conservation initiatives going forward. “One of our Energy Champions noticed that our Block B capacitors were failing, and because of that, the energy consumption was massively increased,” says Prior. “We only realised how significant it was when the smart meters were installed. Now new capacitors have gone in, we’re making significant savings.”
There have been other changes which have had significant impact, such as changing the heating in the large halls to gas-powered radiant heaters, and bringing street lighting more in line with municipal practice – NEC lights were much brighter and coming on much earlier than standard practice, and staying on much later.
According to Prior, the smart meters are expected to lead to savings of 1.5% of energy expenditure in the first year, 3% in 2015/16 and 5% 2016-2018. To date, we have saved some 3.2 million KWh.”
“This is just the start, the smart meters project team will be engaging with the business to look at how we can get the best out of the system,” says Dyke.
“As part of this, a new energy dashboard – a brilliant real-time reporting tool – will be launched which will illustrate overall site usage, giving our energy champions an even more detailed view of local consumption.”
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