Energy use is one of the main drivers of carbon emissions. Getting up to speed on discovering and taking advantage of all opportunities to save energy means reducing the carbon footprint of your territory but also reducing energy costs, both on the municipality’s accounts and for citizens and local businesses. And there is a lot a municipality can do on both grounds.
In terms of energy use that falls directly under the municipality’s responsibility and control (and for which municipalities must usually pay the costs out of their own budget), there are all municipal public services, such as street lighting, as well as a large stock of public buildings (offices, schools etc.) and, sometimes, social housing.
If energy efficiency has not been high on the agenda, a very large savings potential can be just waiting to be discovered. For example, a close review and monitoring of the current conditions of the public lighting system can produce surprising results. Front-runner municipalities implementing energy-efficient street lighting were able to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the whole system while producing a reasonable return on investment and saving up to 60–86 per cent in energy use. Beyond the reduction of electricity use, such municipalities also managed to obtain other advantages, such as reducing light pollution, an environmental issue frequently ignored. Indeed, realising the full potential of improving street lighting goes much further than replacing light bulbs. Optimising the system combines the reduction of lighting levels to actual needs and the improvement of luminaires to avoid upward and intrusive lighting, and maximises useful lighting, replacing lamps using highly energy efficient technologies, taking into account durability, colour rendering index and colour temperature of the light. It can also be an opportunity to implement night dimming or intelligent street lighting technologies (e.g. based on presence sensors) that reduce energy use even further.
Approximately 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions result from energy use in buildings, and buildings often offer very significant improvement potential. Municipalities can themselves act on the buildings they own and/or operate, such as public buildings or social housing, and set higher energy efficiency standards and renewable energy requirements in land use planning for newbuilds and buildings undergoing major renovations through local building regulations, urban planning and building permits to be respected by all public and private buildings on the territory they administer. These standards usually consider different aspects that influence the energy performance of the building (e.g. airtightness, heating and cooling installations, ventilation, the orientation and position of the building, passive solar gain etc.).
Another way that municipalities can enable efficiency improvements in buildings owned by citizens and businesses, as well as public buildings, is to carry out thermographic surveying. This technology enables the collection of data at various scales and provides visual information on ‘hotspots’ of heat radiation, highlighting potential inefficiencies.
Current thermographic methods use infrared cameras to record differences in heat radiated by different landscape features, such as buildings, paved roads (cover pipes) and lighting fixtures. After the images are collected, the data is processed and the heat loss can be visualised in maps and pictures, which allows the intervention priorities in the most deficient buildings or areas to be defined.
Thermography results can also be used to reinforce further actions to improve energy efficiency and support communication efforts to raise awareness about the topic. Local public bodies can, for example, coordinate with the offer of information and advice services on energy efficiency and renewable energy for citizens and businesses. Communication and information activities can be carried out in many ways, adapted based on available resources and in alliance with other organisations, such as private commercial or non-profit organisations that can contribute the technical skills.