Jargon alert - energy aspects

Energy managers have got a new bit of terminology to enrich their lives: ‘energy aspects’. The new term has appeared in BS EN 16001, the European standard on energy management systems (systems in the sense of management scheme, rather than computerised building control). It already featured in national standards (like the Irish IS393) having been inherited, perhaps somewhat naively, from the environmental management system standards ISO 14001.

While most managers would have little difficulty listing the environmental aspects of their operations (emissions to air; noise; waste recycling; etc.), early adopters of IS393 and the like struggle to understand what kind of thing they should be cataloguing as energy aspects. Should it be broad categories like “refrigeration”, or particular systems (“HQ building air conditioning”)? Or could an individual component like a boiler be an aspect? What about more diffuse concepts like “occupant behaviour” or “maintenance standards”? Might they qualify as energy aspects?

The initial view of the committee drafting the standard was that anything could be considered an energy aspect if it affects energy consumption. This is not very helpful if it is your job to compile the register, as it still does not define what kinds of thing should be in it. The UK mirror committee, working under the aegis of BSi, proposed replacing “energy aspects” with “energy saving opportunities” as this would be more meaningful, recognisable, and useful. The draft standard did not at that stage demand that opportunities be tracked effectively. Although this suggestion was rejected, it ultimately helped to clarify what an “aspect” is, as it was agreed that something is an aspect if it is likely to give rise to energy-saving opportunities. Thus, for example, “crushing” might be an energy aspect in a quarry if generic opportunities related to crushing are likely to exist; “operator training” could be another one; but so could specific individual items of plant that offer potential. The register of energy aspects required for compliance is by definition a dynamic list that is expected to be “continually updated and periodically reviewed”, so items can be added or removed as circumstances dictate and an organisation could comply by starting its register with broad, high-level categories and progressively adding more depth, detail and diversity. As energy-saving opportunities are discovered, each would need to be associated with at least one energy aspect, and new aspects would be added to the register as necessary to give a context to otherwise-orphaned opportunities (or so it seems to me).

The skill of the energy manager will in part be evident in the way he or she defines new ‘aspects’. It strikes me that the best strategy is to make the new aspect as generalised as it can be. Let me give you an example. If it is discovered that the time control is poor in Building X, then ‘time control in Building X’ would be a perfectly valid energy aspect according to the management standard, since it affects energy consumption and presents an energy-saving opportunity. However, the more generalised aspect ‘time control in buildings’ might prove more profitable because it creates the context for a more widespread replication of what otherwise would have been an isolated improvement. At higher levels of abstraction, “Time control” and “Building services control” could also be valid aspects for this example but as the scope broadens, the practical usefulness of the definition decliner. A balance will need to be struck in each case.

Vilnis Vesma