In Episode #21 of our Podcast, we talk with Justin Kirby about retrofitting commercial buildings for energy efficiency. Why is there a lack of information and guidance on retrofitting commercial real estate? We go in-depth into the subject of retrofit, including how to be more agile with retrofit and what the 5 key areas are that building owners should focus on getting data from before any asset replacement.
Transcript of ‘Retrofit: The 1st 30% of Carbon Reduction’
James: Justin Welcome to our podcast, very happy to have you.
Justin: great thanks very much for inviting me to come and join the Memoori team.
James: you’re welcome you’re very welcome tell us a bit more about yourself and What’s led you to uh to this point.
Justin: well my background has is well academic and or academic and practitioner background or academic background has been human-centered design okay so I’m relatively new to what would be called I don’t know AC Industries or built environments and I was actually head hunted by one of the tier one contractors main contractors but um actually never ended up getting to the interview because before get to the interview I was hired to give some consultancy someone in the sort of Technology space and that was really around smart buildings and spent about eight months really kind of trying to do what in my previous life would have been called a deep dive into the space and really looking at it as as a kind of wicked problem um because there’s no one size fit all solutions for smart building and also seeing the thing is this space as being or as space but more like an ecosystem with lots of multiple stakeholders all with very different perspectives and very multiple different relationships within that space um I often use this kind of um the parable of the six Blind Men and the elephants to decide to describe ecosystems and I thought smart buildings was very much like that because you know in this parable of the six Blind Men and the Elephant each one of them bumps into a different part of the elephant and think they discovered something else so the guy one who bumps into the leg thinks it’s a tree trunk the one who touches a tus thinks it’s a spear the one who touches the trunk thinks it’s a python and so on and so on and it’s for me what I notice in the smart building space is something similar because everyone sort of looks at it from their particular perspective and then tries to map that on to their experience of the space so if you’re in BMS you see smart buildings as being being BMS if you’re on kind of employee experience you see it as hybrid working Technologies if you’re someone who’s responsible for tenants you’re someone who talks about tenants experience so everyone has these multiple they’re all these multiple perspectives looking at the same thing and what hasn’t really happened I’m not saying it’s necessarily me it’s someone to say look how do we facilitate some discussion which shows each other those different perspectives because there are lots of disconnects and I suppose the most important disconnect would be like the one between those who specify and help make smart buildings happen and those who have to operate them so a lot of the reason to look at that is to think what is the real problem that needs to be solved here is it just make a building smart you know at practical completion or is it about how a building is smart because of the way it is actually run while it’s in use so that was kind of how I ended up in that space what I’ve been doing and subsequently to that I’ve been sort of helping sort of different stakeholders try and get a better understanding of all those different perspectives and often by facilitating things like Gatherings round tables where they have an opportunity to try and put their different perspectives on the table and get a better understanding of how the other people seeing this particularly those people who are on I.T and those people like developer owner operators who have to do who are involved in the commissioning of projects.
James: you know I mean I think you’ve uh you’ve highlighted some big problems there and uh ones that uh would ideally you know we would love to solve in the smart building industry so I think um if you’ve hit on something and um I know you have um and how I came across you on LinkedIn was your work talking about retrofit and how that can get ignored in this sort of whole uh you know race or drive to Net Zero and the new sustainability agenda so I mean how are you viewing that at the moment what is it what is sort of um your view on retrofit and why it’s being.
Justin: uh sorry it’s slightly back to my origin story because one of the reasons I became fascinated in this space is before coming into the space I was in where sustainability met marketing and I was helping the um International advertising Association connect with all the other organizations in that space who had some kind of sustainability or diversity initiative so that they might help Foster collaboration between them because otherwise all those different um all those different initiatives were becoming fragmented and the whole wasn’t greater than the sum of the parts so coming into this space I was really fascinated because I thought well actually you know unlike that space I can see how a tangible difference can be made because you know we’ve all seen the stats about you know emissions in operations 75 percent of buildings aren’t energy efficient 80 of buildings which are in use today are going to be still in use in 2050 so if there’s a space that one could really make a tangible difference as far as drive towards net zero where is it well it struck me looking at all those stats let’s start with buildings because they represent you know whatever it is 30 to 40 percent of all admissions Etc so that’s where I came into that space in terms of why there isn’t as much around retrofit I think you know and this you know sorry if I’ve started to sound very Marxist here for this because follow the money and I think until recently interest rates have been very low so the big Focus has been around new builds because you know borrowing was cheap you could get a good return from property in terms of rental income Etc so that’s where the focus was it’s also where a shed load of money can be made by anyone selling things into that space and one selling operational technology Information Technology Building Set building and Professional Services Etc so there was a lot of material there you know and if you look at all the white papers all the rating agencies have come out you know that seemed to be where the focus is but we’re now seeing a shift you know interest rates are going up I was at a round table this morning organized by one of the tier one contractors any and I asked a question you know and because it was mostly full of Architects and building consultants and I said you know what is the focus now for you is it more Bill new build or retrofit every single one of them said retrofitters now and so I think partly why it hasn’t happened as much before because a lot of energy was being focused on new build whereas now I think there’s a renewed there is a focus on retrofit you know the clock is ticking on drive towards net zero and 20 30 40 50. so it’s just about it being a time when people are going we do need to focus on that there’s a shift in emphasis about what people are looking at to do with you know their portfolios I also think there’s regulatory issues.
James: yeah I was going to mention that do you think that these sustainability reporting.
Justin: yeah well that and also I mean there’s a famous Supermarket which I’m not going to mention who weren’t allowed to didn’t get planning permission to knock down a building on Watson Street recently you know which means that they actually their hand is being forced into retrofitting or refurbishment of it and I think you know that’s just one example which is you know will probably be true of many others but you know particularly in City centers it may become harder just to like decide to rip you know get rid of a building no indeed I mean.
James: I remember a example another retailer but but not in supermarkets but in in another space but again they you know they built um a building um which was perfectly acceptable then 15 years later knocking it down to produce this new energy efficient building is like well you know if you take into account embodied carbon and all the other issues then you know really was it was it worth it and I I guess that’s an education piece as well right that we well I think we’d have a better understanding of it common things more and more I mean.
Justin: if we look historically about smart buildings and you know the one of the people I’ve been co-facilitating these round tables with is an ex-arrat smart building technologist who’s been around since you know the mid 90s he was saying in at the beginning it was really all about energy okay now things have changed it’s not just about it health and well-beings it’s about 10 experience users increases the complexity in terms of the numbers as stakeholders involved but certainly you know the sustainability piece or ESG is becoming you know increasingly important so I think there have been shifts all the way along you know all the way along and you know I think you know employers will probably have a contribution to that you know can we really justify that we’re going to move to new buildings because it’s going to be like this you know um recruiting the next generation of a Workforce might become more problematic if they think they’ll you know there’s been all this investment on this side of things rather than on that side of things so you know there’s lots of factors there but one of the interesting things which did come out of the um Roundtable that we recently co-facilitated with some of the sort of top developer owner operators in the UK was you know they huge consensus but the driver was sustainability rather than be offering it more services as far as retrofitters and the role that smart has to play in bringing that about so you know that that’s certainly which has been the kind of hook for me to kind of dig deeper into this but I think you know that as an industry as a whole that was true and certainly the broader event I was at this morning that this round table was the round table this morning was just part of I mean that is all about sustainable Construction better you know whether that’s the new build or retrofit so smart to me just seems to be the other side of the coin one is about the making of repurposing the buildings and the other is about how they are operated yeah.
James: yeah because I’ve been listening to you talk there reminded me of your little Parable at the start right about perspectives do you get a sense that the the People The Architects the um Consultants they their perspective on Smart on energy use optimization you know the the actual in-use part of it do they understand that well enough.
Justin: well I don’t want to be the opposite of Dale Carnegie and sort of Aiden make friends and then eight and eight people and lose friends and alienate people but I the biggest problem that came out not today what is even talked about today as well so I mean I was glad that some of the key themes from the round table that Ico facilitating the one that I ended went attended today were pretty much identical in terms of what they’re talking about and there is a massive disconnect it seems between those who have to end up operating the buildings and those who are involved in the buildings that those people end up having to upgrade whether that’s the um so I don’t know if it’s about them necessarily being ahead or behind is just about the different kind of conversations going on and what wasn’t necessarily pointed out today as clearly although it was touched upon is but there’s often a skills Gap you know it’s like an expectation you know once you start talking about data you need data analytics like personally you exist to go around just doing the maintenance of the HVAC and all of you know whatever other operational technology in the buildings isn’t necessarily the person who’s going to be able to kind of look at what the data is showing and do something about it let alone automate the doing of something about it so it’s all very well and I think so is it there behind is it or is it about the technology is got you know increased so much that you could specify you know some sort of maybe not the Tardis but potentially the Holodeck or something kind of equivalent of advanced technology but that doesn’t necessarily you’re going to mean that you’re going to have the people who can then no no absolutely yeah use it so that piece I think is is still the missing bit so you can make a building smart ready connect it up whether that’s you know using net Enterprise networking technology or in retrofit there’s other ways to be able to get data around like today I met some people are using radio um because it goes better through insulation of walls and using Wi-Fi or whatever um so there’s lots of ways you can do that but ultimately the bit that still needs to come up to speed as those people are going to be operating and understanding what the data is telling them what they can do about it and I think that’s where the real learning you know was getting that that upgrade you know plugging that skills Gap is going to be absolutely critical.
James: yeah and I agree bringing and then again it’s the education and having those skills in the right place all of those issues as well I wanted to ask you about something I I read an article that you wrote and um this was a quote that stood out for me so it said if the net zero yearly energy consumption Target that we’ve kind of set ourselves right is 55 kilowatts per meter squared and the current average is around 160 kilowatts with Best in Class being 110 so basically at the moment a good building is 110 kilowatts of energy used per meter squared I mean How likely are we to meet these targets anyway these these Net Zero targets by 2050.
Justin: well I mean it’s not looking good so I’d say but you know I don’t really want to be a doom you know Merchant about this I mean and even the person who quoted those stats which is Dr Matthew Marson and jll you know saying there are things we can be doing but it’s about I suppose to me is it’s very easy to get kind of you know excited or caught like a bunny in in headlamps about you know talking about photovoltics you know changing all your Opera you know your BMS systems and all of those but there are some things that can be done straight away which can make a big dent and I think.
James: that kind of easy 30 of Energy Efficiency right which should be the yeah basically true everyone’s starting point.
Justin: yeah like before you know we started this interview we were starting to touch upon some of this you know there are some I guess this is it is you know is quite a fragmented industry the um you know AC or whatever you want to call it Architects engineering construction and particularly if you start to bring in in that and that’s evident by the multiple number of trade associations there are in it you know um dealing with every single aspect from lighting can you know lighting Alliance is it darling to you know iwfm for facilities managers and CIBSE and UK Property association so on and so on so but if we cannot collaborate as on this space given how much you know admissions come from the built environment we’ve really had it you know so like if there is some way that we can get that thing kick-started with a catalyst and I think it has to be that low hanging fruit and I know that you know so the people who who offered the stat was actually a developer owner operator called Patricia and I know that they’ve been working with Siemens in Germany around how they do look at that I mean one of the other participants in that panel was um in that round table was British Land and they have got some you know like you may have 20 systems in a full-blown smart building but with retrofit you could zoom zoom in on five different ones and really focus your efforts on on those to get going so because.
James: you again in that in that article you talked about uh the agility of of retrofit which I thought was interesting right so these five key areas um essentially what you should be if you want to get data though there are five sort of key areas of Key Systems that you could focus on if you were looking for somewhere to start and say actually I want some data to do this.
Justin: if it’s drive towards net zero not necessarily if it’s like the health and well-being or you know productivity yeah yeah if you’re looking at it in a sustainability then that seems to be the case and that is also linked to the other step about 30 of your savings can be made with just some simple bet you know better monitoring of all your HVAC systems and how you turn you know and and make sure you turn lights off making fan coils aren’t on when people are in that area of the building one of those really simple things can drive Mashers Direction um massive reductions now if people can start on doing that and sharing their understand I mean that’s the thing I’m really getting at it’s a typical share their understandings and learning of that then there is some hope that you know yes we can start bringing down those numbers given that they’re Best in Class is like double what what we need it but it should yeah what it needed to be so at least we can start bringing that down but and what about.
James: what were those systems that that were referred to?
Justin: well off the top of my head I’ll have to remember but it’s it’s going to be lighting but it’s a if you look at any diagram of smart Builders when they have operational technology they’re pretty certain it’s the same ones of their.
James: yeah access control I think was one wasn’t it building management system.
yeah BMS lighting fire those kind of things those are all the ones which can be relatively high energy consumption and you know and the HVAC being a major part of it yeah so yeah um you know so whatever you can do to because it get better data from the building management system and start you know using that to make data decisions.
James: yeah it is it is a point actually that I hear um quite a few of quite a few times about that you know you actually like have a better understanding of what you have already so you you know you will probably have some base system it might be old but there’ll be some data that you can get out of it maybe that’s enough to uh to do or to achieve what he what you want it to achieve for example Access Control that system that system can give you a uh some uh some data on occupancy uh whereas so perhaps you don’t need to uh you know install some new system for uh to to measure occupancy in what would be a much more detailed way but it might give you uh enough for what you thought.
Justin: it’s a starting place and I think you know so with that agility I’d also talk about modularity too so agility best being some sort of feedback loop or action learning cycle whatever you want to call it interestingly the um at the round table today there was a road map presented you know as a prototype or Proto road map but it did the the two sides of it got it was a kind of infinity loop diagram but the two bits joined up in the middle between around data you know measurement and performance starting with that looking at that see what you’ve got in place then building that out to see where you’ve got to and then coming back through the cycle again so that’s one thing but I also thought you know they’re also talking about with modularity about as they call it MMC I guess it is which is the fabrication fabrication of things because bearing in mind you know unless buildings are a certain age trying to strip out or rewire them Etc can be problematic so anything sort of pre-early 90s you know historic buildings you may be limited or have to think more creatively about Solutions hence people talking about radio using different form you know using Wi-Fi rather than fiber or other things because we don’t have that but with MMC you might be able to put in new ceiling systems to be able to carry those kind of things that fabricated in factories to be deployed in this in in the buildings and are using recycle materials or whatever then the deployment can be faster and I think what you start to see is this is where my sort of human centered design thing comes in you start to see patterns but repeat themselves in certain building types so that you can then anyone doing the specification can then make things happen faster.
James: yeah anything we can do to kind of be more Auto or process driven or in smart buildings is too often they’re treated as buildings are just a unique which which they are but anything we can do to you know create processes that we can repeat uh is hugely important I think for retrofit.
Justin: well also I think you know going back to this why isn’t there so much about retrofit I mean you know what has driven smart buildings recently um isn’t you know I won’t say it as who exactly said it but they are one of those people whose buildings have got one of those you know high rated Smart building certificates so the smart building is one which helps get the tenants in the fastest so clearly what was driving that as a developer was being able to get tenants in at a high tenancy rate for sure yeah you know whereas I think with retrofit it’s slightly different whereby it might be more about trying to make sure that those buildings are run more efficiently and you know yes the upside might be that you could get more better rental income for them than than you would do if you just left it because it wasn’t very sustainable it’s quite expensive to run all of those other things which are ultimately going to get passed on to the tenant yeah and to the point that you are getting some um you know facilities management companies talking about putting in platforms for free on the basis but they can then they’ll pay for it by the savings which are made by making them more efficient so that they say this the cost of doing making them more um you know efficient isn’t then passed on with increased rates to the tenants no.
James: yeah no great all good points absolutely just to to wrap up Justin what can we expect from you next what are you uh how are you going to help uh promote retrofit an Energy Efficiency.
Justin: I’m running a series of events over the summer which I think your colleague Owens coming to one of them from a lighting Control Systems company her 30th Anniversary um this year and so we’re doing one on retrofit we’re doing one on new buildings we’re doing one on sustainability um hopefully we’ll be collaborating on a a report around retrofit and um I’ll be speaking to some companies there about trying to provide those different perspectives on that you know whether it’s process whether it’s technology whether it’s like you know low hanging fruit you know Lessons Learned Etc um what I would like to be doing is trying to you know use all of these different things to try and work out a way of kick-starting some kind of industry collaboration between all these different organizations which kind of represent different stakeholder groups so what is it that they can be doing collectively rather than individually on on this area particularly around retrofit because you know as I say that’s 80 of all buildings and with 75 of them not meeting energy you know standards then there’s clearly a lot of work which needs to be done so that’s next I hope fingers crossed.
James: good stuff we’ll look forward to it well thanks for your time today I really appreciate it and uh yeah thanks everyone for listening as well.