Air conditioning inspections – a nudge in the right direction?

Air conditioning accounts for a large proportion of a commercial building’s energy usage; so it perhaps comes as no surprise that regular checks designed to improve system efficiency - and reduce energy consumption, operating costs and carbon emissions - are a mandatory requirement under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

All air conditioning systems with an effective rated output of more than 12kW must be inspected at least every five years. This also includes systems consisting of individual units that are less that 12kW but have a combined effective rated output of more than 12kW.

The air conditioning inspection provides recommendations for improving the current efficiency of the system, the equipment maintenance and the installed controls. It will also assess the current size of the installed system in relation to the cooling load and highlight any faults.

However, other than any legal obligations, there is no requirement to act on the recommendations. Instead, the aim of the report is to purely inform the building owner or manager; possibly based on ‘nudge theory’, which supposes that offering a choice often works more effectively than legislation or enforcement.

With the air conditioning of a typical office accounting for more than 30% of its annual electricity consumption, ignoring such a report would nevertheless seem unwise – especially against a backdrop of increasing fuel bills, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and European Policy Centre requirements, financial pressures from schemes such as Carbon Reduction Commitment and CETS and predictions that the annual temperatures in the UK are set to rise.

More than ever, building owners and managers need to look closely at high energy-using services such as air conditioning, heating and lighting – and identify areas in which energy performance can be improved.

The ideal, of course - is that inspections such as these aren’t just part of ‘box ticking’ exercise. For those organisations that have moved onto performance-based contracts in particular, the maintenance or energy management contractor is obliged to operate building systems efficiency and minimise energy consumption as part of the agreement. Those areas currently only requiring assessment every five years under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive are being constantly reviewed. As more organisations become switched onto energy management – the air conditioning inspection may well become a thing of the past.

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