There's no greater fool like a waster of fuel
Throughout the economic turmoil of recent years, one thing was pretty much guaranteed - the cost of energy would keep on going up. And so it did, until around July 2014, when oil prices started to fall. By the end of November last year prices nosedived and it wasn't until February 2015 that there was a small rise, but nothing like a full recovery.
The reasons for this turn of events centre on two key factors - weak demand in many countries, such as China, due to diminishing economic growth, along with surging US oil production. The situation is compounded by the fact that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is determined not to cut production as a way to keep prices up.
Although this obviously has negative repercussions for the revenue generating capabilities of oil producing nations, for consumers these lower prices couldn't be more welcome. Fuel and energy have been a significant factor in the high cost of living and with energy providers lowering their prices and cheaper fuel at the petrol pumps, we are all feeling the benefits.
It's difficult to find anything remotely positive about high-energy prices but I would argue that the situation over recent years has at least made people think about how they use this precious commodity, and do all they can to reduce waste. In the domestic sector, homeowners have been far more conscious about the need to insulate their properties, have boiler upgrades, and install draught proofing and double-glazing, as well as being more discerning about when they have the heating on and for how long.
Similarly, the commercial sector has realised that Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) can make a massive difference to how energy is consumed. This is not surprising, as with greater visibility and control of energy use through the monitoring of services such as heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting, a fully integrated BEMS can have up to 84 per cent of a building's energy consuming devices directly under its control. It also means that owners, managers and occupiers have the ability to analyse, understand, reconfigure and improve a building's energy usage and lower costs.
While that's the good news, with prices getting lower there is also a very real danger that complacency could set in regarding how energy is used, leading to bad habits. Will we drive in a slightly less economical fashion? Will we leave the central heating on for an extra hour or put the room thermostat up a degree of two? Will we become less vigilant about maintaining the setpoints of a BEMS?
A culture of energy efficiency can soon unravel if certain actions are allowed to go unchallenged. I'm sure I'm not alone in witnessing poor behaviour such as leaving lights on after vacating a room, the use of individual fan heaters and windows that are left open with the radiators turned on. In some cases people engaging in these kinds of activities is due to a poorly installed, operated and maintained building services infrastructure that is controlled by an equally inefficient BEMS.
Therefore, even when energy prices are lower, it still makes sense to ensure that setpoints are seasonally adjusted, plant correctly maintained and that local control is given to stakeholders via technology such as Trend's IQ®VIEW8. Making energy management as simple and accessible as possible, its full colour touchscreen display provides a self-configuring user interface to a BEMS and its intuitive display means that users can access and act upon energy management information instantly.
Rather than being seen as a license to use more energy, I believe that lower energy prices should be seen as an opportunity to save even more money - this can then be invested in energy reduction programmes that will secure additional long-term savings when prices rise again. Variable speed drives (VSDs), for example, are extremely cost effective to install and can make a difference to overall operating efficiency, as a centrifugal pump or fan running at 80 per cent speed consumes only half of the energy of one running at full speed.
So, let's enjoy lower fuel and energy prices but avoid getting into the kind of bad habits that will cost us dear when they inevitably go up again.