Workman’s Energy Manager explains why property managers must keep the lights ‘on’, to maintain environmental performance when the lights are off.
Utility management is certainly not top of the list of challenges faced by property managers today, but it shouldn’t be too far down either. While working hard to ensure there is no disruption to supply for assets with partial or full operational requirements, we are also focused on reducing consumption and managing costs. As landlords face uncertainty and cost pressure, we are seeking out opportunities to take advantage of the downturn in prices – despite reduced reaction time from suppliers.
All this while still maintaining data collection and monitoring environmental performance – because herd immunity won’t fight climate change.
Energy Reduction for today, and tomorrow
Responding to the sudden shift in occupancy levels across portfolios, property manager will first seek to eliminate any potential energy waste – and therefore seek to exercise some control on energy costs – through Building Management Systems and other technology enabled tools.
This data is continuously being checked against the profile data and we can actively manage any variances. Where smart meters are in place we have access to the building’s consumption, but where still present, site teams can also assist.
However, the current circumstances do provide the opportunity to understand what minimum consumption in an asset looks like, and we can use this information as a base to inform future reduction strategies. As an example where a building is now locked down, with all systems shut down to a minimum with the exception of security systems and lighting, we can understand a true baseload position and can now perhaps reasonably expect similar reductions during other periods of shut down such as weekends or Christmas.
The profiling will vary from asset to asset and be occupier-dependent but it is this knowledge and learning, very much at asset level, that we can take into the planning stages of a net zero pathway.
We are conscious that energy prices are falling, an event that we would usually ensure that we take full advantage of, in order to secure contracts on preferential rates. This is a huge undertaking, as this adjustment period to remote working affects suppliers’ ability to take on new contracts or respond to tenders. The smaller suppliers, however, appear to be adapting better but that means a limited pool of suppliers to choose from and potentially an additional degree of risk.
Savings can certainly be found, and the decision-making process can be navigated carefully by ensuring that we only use suppliers we have previously risk assessed and that we have full transparency of all market considerations before we lock in contracts. To that end, a strategy of reviewing all contracts well in advance of expiry will prove extremely beneficial.
Whilst a large number of meters are ‘smart’ and send data directly to suppliers, there are still meters that need reading manually, and ironically, the 31st March was a key date in the diary to take reads for reporting, including for both GRESB and SECR.
Data collection will be one of our greatest practical challenges in utilities management, with limited or no resource to take readings on site. Taking a proactive approach, we are not relying on suppliers to estimate, and instead ask energy consultants to submit reads using calculated reductions that reflect the individual circumstances of each asset, to control the process and avoid credits and re bills.
Customer Service and managing payments
With energy consultants now working remotely and supplier call centres closed, resolving queries and issues in these circumstances require higher-than-usual levels of patience. As communications becomes increasingly complex, solid relationships built with core suppliers in easier times will be paying dividends now.
Direct and consistent access to customer service contacts will ensure issues continue to be prioritised, including any long-standing and aged debt issues, which can be managed out during this time.
When things appear to be slowing down, we are working hard to keep things moving and take advantage of opportunities in the market to manage utilities effectively now, and set stronger foundations for the future.