One in ten UK buildings are cooled while unoccupied. Can intelligent building controls help?

One in ten UK buildings are cooled while unoccupied. Can intelligent building controls help?

A new report, covered by The Energyst, shines a light on the appalling waste of energy in UK air conditioning.

‘10% of UK power generation is being used to cool non-domestic buildings, much of the time when nobody is in them,’ details the document, which was prepared by BRE on behalf the now defunct Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).


The report says the proportion of buildings with air-conditioning is increasing. In 2012, some 65% of UK office space and 30% of UK retail space was air-conditioned.

Cooling in such offices typically uses around 40 kWh/m2 per year; the air conditioning is frequently used even when buildings are unoccupied, for example in the evenings and over the weekends.

Driving the troubling trends, heatwaves are becoming more frequent across the UK. In the South-East of England, the number of heatwave days per year increased from 5 in 1961 to 17 in 2003.

The report concludes that limits on whole-building energy use have the potential to achieve significant energy savings, but there still remains a large untapped potential in the difficult area of management and user behaviour.


Within DECC’s overall report, Air Conditioning Inspection Reports were included. They revealed that, ‘The most common recommendations relate to improving controls (27%) and maintenance (16%).’

“Specific building controls represent an ideally matched solution to the issues,” says Gareth Barber Managing Director, BG Energy Solutions.

“With the right building controls, optimum temperatures can be set; ensuring that heating and cooling only activate below or above the right levels.

“And, time-based programs can be used; when the building is closed out of hours, air conditioning shuts off.”

Barber reveals that for late night workers, occupancy sensors can be linked to systems, maximising staff comfort, energy savings and costs. Such control for each individual room, rather than systems activating across the building is self-evidently the way forward.


“We must realise, Building Management Systems (BMS) add to, rather than detract from staff comfort,” Barber continues.

“When they are used correctly, staff are cooler, energy is saved, money is saved. Automation is not the enemy here.

“Rather, our challenge is to tackle the complacency. There is a troubling lack of energy ownership among commercial property. Amazingly, this costs firms staggering amounts of cash, all totally unnecessarily. It’s not just cooling, excessive heating is a major issue in winter too.

“You would think the economic imperative alone would drive change. At BGES, we will do our utmost to supply and deliver the intelligent buildings revolution, creating greener, safer, more comfortable places to work.”