The challenges of energy management

With energy costs rising, concerns over resilient energy supplies and statutory obligations on emissions and climate change, there are many energy management challenges.

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Jun 07, 2017
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Author: Cameron Steel: Director at BK Design Associates

With energy costs rising, concerns over resilient energy supplies and statutory obligations on emissions and climate change, there are many energy management challenges.

How energy management is undertaken depends on the type of organisation and on the life cycle of the installation: larger estates will have a duty holder with a clearly defined role; other duty holders in smaller companies take the role as one more responsibility amongst many.

Coordination is crucial. An energy manager may wish to turn the lights off wherever possible, but the engineering manager wants the lights on to keep production going. The facilities manager needs a healthy environment for all occupants to encourage and support productivity. There is a potential conflict of interests, but all sides need to work together. Doing nothing and carrying on regardless is not an option when considering energy management. So, what exactly are the challenges?


Who owns the problem of energy management? An organisation should have a plan to effectively meet the problem. Statutory obligations on Health and Safety, Environmental Management and Equal Opportunities develop as company policies. Energy management needs similar levels ownership and responsibility from board level to the shop floor. Staff and visitors alike also need to understand their role in reducing unnecessary use of energy.


Successful energy management is a process driven system to closely assess what, where, why and how the energy is used. Careful monitoring and analysis will identify areas and opportunities for improvement. A framework for an energy management system uses the universal model of “plan, do, check, act”, as often adapted to manage improvements in the engineering world. However, there is no single solution: energy management systems should have appropriate policies in place and processes that employ a wide variety of tools. To be effective, strategic direction is required and agreed procedures that make the best use of resources.

Energy sources

What sources of energy is the installation actually connected to? Is the capacity large enough? Is the business about to grow with greater demands than the local infrastructure can provide for? Costs depend on the size of supply required. Local renewable energy sources can assist with reducing costs of importing energy to a site but bring their own strategic issues, of consistency and resilience and adequate cover during essential maintenance periods. Energy management strategy needs to be carefully linked to the overall business strategy so that it does not become a constraint.

User Behaviour

Large investments in energy saving equipment and associated controls technology may well save energy, but are there quicker wins to be had? Within any environment, modifying the behaviour of occupants is generally recognised as the quickest win in terms of reducing energy consumption. It does not really matter if the technology in your estate is old or brand new; if the working culture is not influenced in line with energy management policies, then energy will be wasted.

Passive measures

Modern building designs, usually governed by regulatory parameters, ensure that passive measures are incorporated into new building structures from the outset. On older structures, the challenges become retrospective installation in spaces not necessarily designed for it. For example, problems can arise when increased insulation and decreased ventilation rates cause condensation and subsequent health issues from poor internal air quality. A holistic approach is always advisable.

Active measures

National and international standards drive modern building designs towards the use of energy saving technology and controls. Benchmark design tools will shape new installations, but care needs to be taken. Installation, operation, potential maintenance issues, user interfaces and whole life performance must all be considered. Get any of these wrong and expensive energy saving technology will simply not work – the so-called performance gap.

Checks and balances

Without monitoring and analysis of the existing situation, and feedback, a management plan will fail and it will be difficult to justify the initial investment. Processes to check meter readings, observe general patterns of use and also operational trends, will help to highlight problem areas and any unusual energy activity. Regular energy audit processes can highlight particular areas for improvement. The consumption of energy should not be accepted as it is – it needs to be challenged and improved where possible in a robust and cohesive energy management system.


Procurement is often a challenge to get right and finance departments will always be looking to save money. The most immediate challenge might be choosing an energy supplier: comparing different energy suppliers and their respective tariffs to ensure the best deal. Energy management systems identify energy saving projects: the challenge is to ensure the technology purchased gives the best results.


Proper planning and implementation of energy management systems benefits the wellbeing of staff and visitors, an organisation’s profitability, and its environmental credentials. The IET Guide to Energy Management is for those with specific or delegated responsibility for managing energy. It will assist energy managers and engineering staff to understand their own particular processes and the correlation between their respective duties. The Guide discusses the framework for successful energy management processes, the importance of better coordination with engineering design and also the interface activities with engineering maintenance throughout the life cycle of the installation or estate.

Pre-orders of the book are available.

(This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the online May 2017 edition of Wiring Matters from the IET, with thanks Dr Andy Lewry for his guidance on the article.)

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Georgina Bloomfield

Digital Content Editor, The Institution of Engineering & Technology

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