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A Better Normal

James Kirkwood's picture
Owner kW Energy Consultants

Owner kW Energy Consultants; Experienced energy consultant and project manager of wide-ranging, varied and complex energy efficiency projects; Display Energy Certificate (DEC) assessor...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Jun 9, 2020
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I started putting this blog together days after Boris Johnson’s rather confusing and mixed announcement which left us all feeling a mixture of bewilderment, amusement and anger. I felt myself getting sucked down into the negative spiral of it all, before quickly coming out the other side with the mantra of ‘let’s just get on with it’ – not go about with reckless abandon of course, still keep alert, keep your distance, keep safe and apply some common sense, but also not simply batten down the hatches and give up. I genuinely feel there’s a positivity in the air that hasn’t been sensed for some time – that the worst of the health crisis is past, the NHS coped and coped admirably, the weekly shop feels quite normal again now – and there’s that key word, ‘normal’, which leads me nicely (almost like I planned it) to my next point…

There is talk of getting back to ‘normal’; but what exactly does ‘normal’ mean now? It is a different normal to what we were used to and importantly, it is so important, so essential, that we do not go back to normal. We can do so much better! Remember, other words for ‘normal’ include ‘ok’, ‘average’, ‘alright’…why not aim for greater?! Why not go beyond?

So, what’s next? It’s all well and good saying go back to work but only on foot or by bike – both OF these are laudable but until the infrastructure is there to the scale as it is in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands in many cases it simply is not possible – on a local scale, Nottingham residents know only too well how bad the roads can be (being crowned the most congested city…in the world!), but until public transport is made more affordable, more reliable, more comfortable (especially trains, which are simply ridiculously expensive to the point it is just an absolute joke), then public take up will be nowhere near big enough.

A huge danger of course by saying do not take public transport is that everyone will have to drive…great, bang goes the clean air we’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks. Of course, right now there is a difficult balance between keeping the virus from spreading and re-starting the economy, made all the more difficult by the public’s growing frustration and impatience resulting in social distancing rules being broken (and then some).

Also, spare a thought for those being ordered to return to the workplace, especially schools. Over the last couple of weeks of May I was able to survey a few primary and secondary schools that needed their DEC or EPC (Display Energy Certificate & Energy Performance Certificate) renewing for compliance and funding requirements; the buildings were of course largely empty which made surveying them easier, but seeing classrooms with desks spread apart, certain doorways blocked off and corridor floors covered in directional arrows did make me realise how massive and difficult an undertaking for schools this will be (whose budgets are stretched enough as it is without having to pay exorbitant fees by money-grabbing, ruthless, evil hand gel suppliers).

Image courtesy of ourdailyplanet.com

The same applies of course to office workers – again I’ve been able to (I want to be clear here, just in case there was any concern, that throughout all kW Energy Consultants surveys all care is taken to adhere to social distancing measures, wearing homemade PPE so as not to divert it from the front line, washing hands regularly and avoiding touching all surfaces where possible) survey a few offices which are steadily filling up, but still largely empty. A great risk is how these buildings are conditioned – with only skeletal staff on hand there are large empty offices that are on shared heating or cooling systems and are still being treated as being in use. Monitoring your business’ energy consumption is an absolute must anyway, especially at the moment, energy bills should be massively reduced, but in many cases with building managers I’ve spoken with, they’re not seeing these savings because systems have been left as they are, sometimes from a lack of knowledge on the controls (as a result of poor handover from the installer/contractor) or because the controls themselves have failed as they are prone to after a few years.

Clearly then there are immediate savings to be made on a day-to-day basis regardless of the situation, however it has been interesting and inspiring to hear about the crossover between health and energy; washing your hands has the disadvantage of touching a potentially contaminated surface – so replace the old-fashioned tap head with a sensor – this will also save on water and on energy used to heat that water (i.e. the boiler or water heater), win win! The same of course applies to lights; motion sensors have been widely available for some time but are not as common as you’d expect and touching the switch is not ideal at the moment, so install a motion sensor – they also save on energy by ensuring lights are not left on accidentally in empty rooms; so the humble motion sensor could save a life from Covid-19 and many more from climate change.

Speaking of climate change…and I want to ensure I’m not undermining how horrific the current situation is (I’ve had family members suffer for 8-12 weeks or more and a friend’s mum sadly passed away from the virus), because it is; it’s touched us all directly or indirectly and looks set to stay that way for some time, but the figures, grim reading though they are, are hopefully easing and should be largely contained to 2020. Annual climate change deaths are estimated at 150,000, a figure that will only increase…and continue for many, many years unless drastic action is taken.

So how do we recover? Is it a case of repairing the economy at any cost? Risks will soon have to be taken, the short term risk to people’s health vs the long term risk of the damage to the economy, mental health issues, unemployment, homelessness is being weighed daily. One approach is to look at what Canada are doing whereby grant aid for now and going forward will only be made available to those businesses that at least disclose their environmental impacts and demonstrate that they have carbon emission reduction policies (with proof they are achieving them) in place. This is a difficult thing to police and would actually be easier if it were more strict. In this country we could base it on building stock energy ratings (see DECs, above) or on the latest ESOS & SECR reports. The tools have been there for years but largely on a reporting basis, now is an opportunity to use them properly as they were originally designed to, now is the time.

We can do better, we must do better, we will do better. Let’s make normal, better. We can end this pandemic, this climate change pandemic.

James Kirkwood's picture
Thank James for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 9, 2020

There is talk of getting back to ‘normal’; but what exactly does ‘normal’ mean now? It is a different normal to what we were used to and importantly, it is so important, so essential, that we do not go back to normal. We can do so much better! Remember, other words for ‘normal’ include ‘ok’, ‘average’, ‘alright’…why not aim for greater?! Why not go beyond?

Well said, here. And notably, we can't go backwards either. Energy efficiency and clean energy actions have long been in part about public health as well, so being more health-minded in this new world we live in can also mean inherently being more sustainable. 

James Kirkwood's picture
James Kirkwood on Jun 9, 2020

Definitely Matt, the 'one health' of the planet encompasses all!

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