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How to save energy in offices and businesses

The services sector is responsible for up to 40% of a city’s energy consumption and so reducing its consumption with efficient practices is essential for the sustainable development of smart cities.

Picture of an office

In cities, the services sector is responsible for 30-40% of energy consumption and 25- 35% of direct and indirect emissions. This sector includes buildings with extremely varied uses: offices, shopping centres, small shops, hospitals, sports centres, hotels, cafeterias, educational centres, etc.

Despite the wide variety of uses for buildings in the tertiary sector, offices and businesses account for 65% of energy consumption. In turn, the largest consumption in these buildings is produced by air conditioning (40-60%) and lighting (20-45%), similar to that of the residential sector. Therefore, energy efficiency objectives in the services sector must be focused on reducing the consumption and emissions of these two systems.


Priority actions in the services sector

The report The Future of Sustainable Cities: Urban energy transition to 2030 developed by Deloitte identifies a number of priority measures to be implemented in the tertiary sector, taking into account the main uses of energy in the services mentioned above.

According to this study, the most urgent action required is the replacement of air conditioning equipment with heat pump technology, which is a much more competitive option for large surface areas and can result in a saving of up to 30%.

Lighting is another area with a significant potential for reduction. Switching from traditional lighting to LED systems would result in a unit saving of 70-80% of lighting energy consumption, while smart lighting control systems could achieve a reduction of between 15-30%.

Likewise, self-consumption in the services sector faces fewer barriers as the roofs of many facilities (commercial buildings, offices, car parks, leisure centres, etc.) are usually large and accessible enough to achieve substantial energy savings. A large services building, for example, could produce up to 15-25% of its electrical consumption through self-consumption systems.

Furthermore, the refurbishment of buildings would also generate some reduction in consumption and emissions, although this would be lower than in the residential sector due to the reduced age of the buildings.

“The actions with the greatest impact for energy sustainability in the services sector are the replacement of air conditioning equipment with heat pumps, the improvement of lighting and, depending on the building and the city, self-consumption”

The comparative advantages of energy efficiency in the tertiary sector

In the services sector, energy sustainability actions have, in general, lower barriers to implementation than in the residential sector:

  • In general, buildings in the services sector are usually owned or managed by a single company or owner. Therefore, investment decisions do not require a large number of stakeholders, as residents' associations do in the residential sector. This facilitates and streamlines the process of implementing the necessary actions and measures.
  • Investment decisions are made on the basis of economic criteria, which helps decision-making with regard to initiatives that require high investment but will be profitable in the short or medium term.
  • Buildings in this sector consume more energy per unit of area, therefore the time to return on investment is shorter than in other infrastructures.
  • The renovation of equipment and buildings on the grounds of aesthetics or functionality occurs more frequently than in the residential sector. This is an opportunity to introduce energy sustainability criteria into these renovations.


How can energy efficiency be increased in the services sector?

As in the residential sector, energy efficiency in the tertiary sector requires the introduction of sustainability and energy efficiency criteria into construction in order to improve the conditions of the existing infrastructure stock.

Some recommendations for city councils and municipal administrations include:

  • Defining action plans at the municipal level that require consumption and emissions reductions and air quality improvements to be achieved.
  • Setting a target for 100% of buildings to have energy certificates by 2030.
  • Launching campaigns to inform the owners of the buildings about the measures introduced in the building action plans.
  • Establishing a schedule for restricting the marketing of inefficient equipment.
  • Promoting the incorporation of energy sustainability criteria into refurbishments that are carried out in buildings as a matter of course..
  • Supplementing the Technical Building Code for new buildings to establish restrictive limits on energy consumption, depending on the climate zone.
  • Encouraging the changing of current electrical tariffs so that they act as an effective price signal that does not penalise the adoption of electrical equipment over other, less sustainable options.
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