In December 2020, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) gazetted regulations that make it mandatory for certain typologies and sizes of buildings to get and display an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). The EPC is also submitted to the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) who stores, manages and tracks the data. The deadline for compliance is currently 7 December 2022.
The aim of the EPC programme is to assess the energy efficiency of existing buildings to get a realistic picture of the data as it stands to be able to formulate plans on how it can be improved. There is currently no baseline for South Africa’s existing building stock’s energy usage or carbon emissions, so the requirements to meet Net Zero Carbon commitments in accordance with the Paris Agreement Targets for 2050 are somewhat unknown.
Realising that this was a rather ambitious task, the GBCSA partnered with the Carbon Trust to put together a plan for a more robust process of implementing the EPC programme successfully. They took that plan to UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions (PACT), a UK government-funded programme for financing global climate initiatives and won funding for the EPC programme. UK PACT partners with various countries to assist them with their carbon reduction initiatives.
Currently the regulations apply to only a select group of building occupancy classes; A1 (Entertainment and Public Assembly), A2 (Theatrical and Indoor Sport), A3 (Places of Instruction), and G1 (Offices). Buildings should be over 2000m² for private buildings and 1 000m² if they are government owned, occupied or operated.
ROADMAP FOR BUILDING OWNERS
The main stakeholders in the EPC process are the building owner, the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS), Accredited Inspection Body (AIB) for EPCs, and SANEDI, one of the implementing agencies for DMRE.
The first steps towards obtaining an EPC are the responsibility of the building owner. They need to ascertain whether their building is required to obtain an EPC (or whether they would like to obtain one voluntarily), then they need to familiarise themselves with the requirements and the roles of the AIBs, and finally gather all the necessary data for the EPC assessment. From there an AIB is appointed and provided with the gathered documentation and allowed building access for inspections. The AIB will follow the necessary assessment processes, submit the data to SANEDI, and issue the EPC to the owner of the building. The building owner then submits a copy of the EPC to SANEDI digitally, and displays a hard copy at their building entrance. The building owner may then make interventions to improve their grade and then begin the cycle again for the five-year renewal of the EPC (or earlier should they wish to improve their grade before the first EPC expires).
WHAT GETS ASSESSED?
The inspections will consider all energy used in a building over a 12-month period, through gathered data and site inspections. A building qualifies as “existing” if it is over two years old and has not undergone major renovations within 24 months. This will allow a one-year “settling period” after construction or renovations, and then a year of normal operations to be measured. The certification rates the building’s energy performance on a scale of A (high performance) to G, with D being the midpoint benchmark. All types of energy (electricity, diesel, LPG, renewables, etc) are considered. The total energy use intensity per square metre per year is then calculated and compared to a benchmark established in the SANS 10400-XA standards applicable to new buildings.
EPC certificates show the key building specifications and indicate the grade achieved on a colour coded graph.
Marloes Reinink, founder of Solid Green Consulting, highlights that the grading considers energy use only and not the source of the energy, although the types of energy used are listed on the certificate. If two identical buildings were assessed, but one utilised renewable power sources while the other didn’t, the buildings’ EPC ratings would still be identical. This is because the rating is only considering how efficient or wasteful a building’s systems are, and not where the power is sourced, which is a different consideration.
Identical buildings would receive the same performance grading, regardless of the source of the energy used.
THE PROCESS SO FAR
A sample of 30 buildings (half private and half public) is being assessed as part of the UK PACT partnership. The “lessons learned” from the process will be collated and used for future regulation and guideline updates. As of 17 May 2022, only 29 other buildings had received EPC certificates. At the time of writing, there are only eight AIBs. It is not known exactly how many buildings fall into the current requirements but estimates are that between 150 000 and 160 000 buildings require EPCs by the December deadline. With only six months left, this is increasingly unlikely to be achieved. While the media has reported penalties of significant fines or jail time for non-compliance, nothing has been confirmed and it is unclear exactly what will happen after 7 December.
The iconic Portside Building in Cape Town is the largest and tallest building to receive an EPC to date. The building achieved a 5-Star Green Star As-Built rating in 2015 and has now achieved a D grading on its EPC, this grade matches the baseline requirements by the current building regulations. Dr Frank Duvenhage, of Bluedust Engineering Solutions, was the consultant involved with preparing the building information for accreditation. He highlights the complexity of the building due to the many uses (including retail, which is not currently required to be assessed), and its area and height which requires water to be pumped to the upper floors and extensive HVAC installations.
EPCS AND JOB CREATION
The sheer number of buildings requiring inspection, as well as the amount of data that needs to be collected and collated for the EPC inspections, requires a lot of manpower. Dr Duvenhage points out that this is where facilitators can help to build momentum towards EPC compliance while creating more jobs regarding the collection of data prior to the AIB being involved. Coupled with the fact that EPCs are required to be renewed every five years, the EPC programme will provide a significant number of permanent job opportunities. The Institute of Energy Professionals Africa (IEPA) is a non-profit company in South Africa that provides training, exams, certification and curriculum development for the energy sector across sub-Saharan Africa. IEPA, in conjunction with SANEDI, has developed the EPC practitioner training to equip electricians, and other engineering disciplines, with the skills to be able to collect and collate the information for inspections.
Yolanda de Lange, IEPA’s EPC practitioner skills programme project coordinator, explains that the new programme had nearly 200 applications from unemployed electricians. Just 50 were selected to complete training, practical modules and work experience under the guidance of mentors over a three-month period. “Close to 60% of the candidates are female as the EPC practitioner job profile is ideal for women in the energy sector,” says De Lange. There are currently three Skills Development Providers (SDPs) going through the process of getting accredited to provide the training course. De Lange highlights that there is no shortage of interest in the training but there are limited skills available for the mentorship and support roles, which is a focus area for future development.
There will need to be many more trained inspectors in circulation to even begin to meet the requirements and timelines for all the inspections. This is an ideal opportunity for women and youth in particular. There is also likely to be an increased demand for consultants to upgrade and modernise building services to achieve upgraded EPCs and associated cost reductions.
TOWARDS NET ZERO
Goals for Net Zero Carbon by 2050 (or any other date, for that matter) are difficult challenges, and targets are irrelevant without clear plans of action of how to achieve them. This is where ambitious programmes like the EPC rollout in South Africa are essential. While it may currently seem like a maze of acronyms and slow-moving processes, it is a huge step in the right direction in terms of South Africa’s part in the global fight to slow global warming. At this stage, there are no required actions for underperforming buildings as the exercise is currently a data gathering process. Once the actual impact of South Africa’s existing building stock on our carbon targets is established, then plans can be introduced to improve energy efficiency
There are other benefits for building owners to knowing, and improving on, their efficiency. Jonathan Booth, project lead at the Carbon Trust explains that “while climate change is the fundamental driver, there are strong commercial arguments for embarking on a net zero journey; for instance, rising energy costs and advancing technologies continuously strengthen the economic case for many of the most effective interventions such as upgrading HVAC systems and managing plug loads”. In the same way that a consumer might consider the EPC on an appliance, or the fuel efficiency of a car, before making a large purchase, prospective property buyers or tenants will now have a clear indication of what their energy usage and costs might be. This will likely create a higher demand for buildings with an above average performance rating.
Although the initial uptake for EPCs for certain classes of buildings in South Africa was relatively slow, we have experienced a sudden increase in activity, as the current deadline for compliance of 7 December 2022 is fast approaching!
This has come with a corresponding positive impact for job creation prospects (targeting, but not exclusively for women and youth), as can be seen by the numbers of delegates registering for EPCtraining with the various institutions offering this training and the number of jobs advertised by not only SANAS-accredited inspection bodies, but also for facility managers with an understanding of the EPC Regulations. These numbers still need to be quantified, but it is definitely on an upward trajectory.
On the potential impacts for a net-zero carbon future, it is common cause globally that buildings have a major role to play in this effort to reduce the negative impacts of climate change. EPCs themselves, will not reduce energy consumption or carbon emissions, but will make a significant impact on visualising how far individual buildings are in achieving this aim and also quantifying the quantum of energy efficiency savings required to reach an A-rating, with reduced carbon emissions.