Upgrading public sector buildings during a financial crisis

The public sector has ambitious net zero targets. Decarbonising public sector buildings is essential to meet these targets – promises have been made to halve the carbon emissions from public sector buildings by 2032.

How can the public sector meet its decarbonisation targets during a financial crisis? In short, reducing energy consumption – dramatically –, combined with producing green energy – locally –, is the only sensible solution.

And it’s a solution that pays for itself.

Future of energy prices

It’s easy to forget, after the shock of the most recent price increases, that energy prices had increased by over 100% over the previous ten years. In the short term, energy prices may fluctuate up or down. In the medium to long term, the direction of travel is always up.

It would be naïve to think that energy prices will fall back to pre-2022 levels, or even stay where they are today. They are more likely to increase instead.

Central government Energy Bill support, whilst welcome, will not resolve the ongoing energy price problem nor is it affordable beyond the very short term.

The conflict in Ukraine is one of the factors driving energy prices upwards. But there are several other factors that suggest high energy prices are here to stay:

The demand for electricity is expected to double by 2040. Massive investment is needed to increase capacity and protect the country from the threat of ‘blackouts’ during periods of peak demand. Transitioning from carbon-intensive to renewable energy sources presents new challenges. All of which will require funding.

Ultimately, the cost of this essential investment will be met by price increases.

Climate change, decarbonisation & grid capacity
The energy price turmoil has created economic havoc. Whilst attention has understandably focussed on this problem, the climate change challenge is waiting for all of us. It is arguably the biggest threat that society has ever faced.

Fracking, increasing North Sea gas extraction, or opening new coal mines will not solve the immediate energy price crisis. If somehow, they could, such measures will only exacerbate climate change challenges, adding to costs.

A more sensible and immediate solution is simply to reduce consumption. The technology exists and is proven.

Home insulation, solar PV generation, LED lighting combined with IoT controls are just some of the measures that will help meet the climate change and energy challenge.

Inevitably, energy reduction measures must be paid for.

Whilst renewables provide an increasing proportion of national grid generation, they present a new set of problems. The wind doesn’t always blow and sometimes it blows too much. The UK gets most of its solar energy at a time when electricity demand is at its lowest. These are challenges that can be addressed with sound engineering solutions.

These exist but will need to be funded.

The UK relies upon gas to provide circa 40% of our electricity. Burning gas contributes to climate change – it is not a green energy source.

The supply side will need massive investment to keep pace with demand and to meet CO2 reduction targets.

National debt and inflation
Since 2001, the UK’s gross debt as a % of GDP has tripled. We now face the highest inflation rates in 40 years and the very real threat of recession. National borrowing will continue to shoot up and the cost of government borrowing is currently higher than for Greece or Italy.
There is no longer, if there ever was, a free government money tree.

What can the public sector do, now?

An immediate solution – is to reduce and produce.

The technologies to deliver this exist already – we just need to start applying them.

Smart controls and IoT save an additional 75%

In our experience, retrofitting with energy-efficient LEDs and smart controls can reduce the lighting energy load by up to 90%. We have delivered savings at this level for the NHS, councils, the education, leisure, and private sector.

A point-for-point LED replacement alone will typically reduce lighting energy consumption by 40 – 60%. Including smart controls, the measured energy reduction can be as much as 90%.

Combined with on-site solar power generation, this can effectively zero the lighting energy load and make a significant contribution to the remaining electrical load.

When energy prices were around 16p per kWh, short-term thinking resulted in the exclusion of smart controls from many projects.

With the benefit of hindsight – and energy prices at 50p per kWh and above – leaving energy unsaved is financially irrational and results in carbon reduction targets becoming ever harder to deliver.

Future-proof solutions & further smart building optimisation

Including smart controls will help future-proof the built environment. Sustainable solutions make sound financial and environmental sense.

Why invest in a system that cannot evolve in line with the operational environment? Smart control systems will produce an immediate financial and energy-saving benefit when delivered as part of a lighting energy-saving project.

Choosing the right system can enable additional energy savings to be delivered cost-effectively – through the smart ceiling.

The Enlighted system is one example. It can help deliver a 90% lighting energy reduction – paying for itself and delivering immediate cost reduction.

But that is just the starting point.

Heating control can be delivered through the same system. The system gathers an immense amount of data that can be used to optimise the use of your buildings. Asset tracking, space management, and internal mapping apps – all can be delivered from a single platform helping to optimise the performance of the built environment.

Luton Council is leading the way

Over the past four years, CILS have installed advanced smart controls infrastructure in more than 40 Luton Council buildings.

This solution has dramatically improved Luton Council carbon footprint and maximised their energy savings.

Sue Davies, Strategic Energy Manager, Property and Infrastructure, Luton Council, says:

“Smart controls give us a chance to satisfy both the carbon reduction and financial aspects, and as we look forward to extending the capabilities of IoT, we can at least assure ourselves that we are playing some small part in improving the lives of our local people.

The additional energy saving directly attributable to the smart controls is circa 75%, and this has made our investment decision, once questioned, now seem inspired!

The financial implications, if we had not opted for a smart controls strategy, are quite frankly scary. The financial and climate case for smart controls is, as far as I am concerned – proven.”


Funding solution: no capital cost & immediate net cost savings

With the public purse under unprecedented pressure, funding essential energy and carbon reduction projects has become harder than ever.

In response, CILS can now deliver energy-saving projects as a ‘service’. There is no capital contribution requirement and typically projects are net cash positive from day one.

An added benefit is that, unlike a lease or loan-funded approach, the risk is transferred to the service provider. All projects are fully maintained for the period of the service agreement – at no additional cost.

The cost of the service agreement is fixed for the period of the service contract, from the outset, providing financial certainty and ensuring that budgets are protected from future energy price increases.

This service can be used for a wide range of energy-saving projects, including solar PV, LED and smart controls.


chris knight

Chris Knight

Chris is an advocate of future-proof technology to address the climate crisis. In 2011, he founded CILS to deliver energy efficiency, initially through LED lighting solutions. His primary drive now, is helping clients achieve net zero profitably, and if possible, with a net positive contribution.

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