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Improving the energy efficiency of building services in the UK and Europe

Our researchers in the Welsh School of Architecture have trialled and implemented a more effective way of monitoring buildings and their services to identify poor energy performance, increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

Changing EU directives

Our research has focussed on replacing physical inspections of building services and systems with more effective methods of continuous monitoring that help to quickly identify poor energy performance, in turn increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.

Between 2000 and 2003 our researchers in the Welsh School of Architecture monitored  energy use of air-conditioning (AC) systems in UK office buildings. The research gave an insight into the energy consumption of different types of AC systems in UK offices. The findings highlighted the disparity of energy consumption between AC system and design types despite the systems performing a similar function.

Continuous energy monitoring vs. individual physical inspections

Following the monitoring of UK systems,  our researchers were asked to participate in an EU project ‘AuditAC’ coordinated by École des Mines, Paris, between 2005-2006. Our researchers investigated the efficiency of individual physical inspections compared to the results from energy monitoring. This research highlighted that, from a policy viewpoint, the physical inspection approach was not as cost-effective as continuous energy monitoring due to the number of accredited inspectors that would be required to carry out the inspections.

HARMONAC project

The research developed through the AuditAC project was used to help inform the EU project HARMONAC which our researchers proposed and ran between 2007-2010. During this project the team measured the practical impact of inspecting air conditioning systems on energy efficiency, and found that individual inspections were both limited and unlikely to incentivise energy efficiency measures due to cost.

The research concluded that the most viable long-term and effective solution for running building systems efficiently was through the continuous monitoring of building systems.

The iSERVcmb project

Between 2011-2014 our research team then proposed and co-ordinated the iSERVcmb project which aimed to demonstrate a continuous energy monitoring framework compatible with all EU member states. Our researchers used data from the project partners and the HARMONAC project to produce benchmarks for individual building components related to the end uses served. This process was used by our researchers in over 2800 Air Conditioning systems within 330 buildings across 15-member states. The results showed that building systems that underwent the iSERV process reduced total electrical energy use by up to 33% with an average saving of 3%. In addition, the buildings themselves could expect to reduce their total energy use by an average of 9% with savings of up to 40% demonstrated. By comparing the iSERV process and physical inspections, it was found that continuous monitoring could not only detect more energy conservation opportunities than physical inspections, but was also cheaper to undertake.

Ultimately, our researchers predicted that, should all EU member states make their building services conform to iSERV processes, the annual cost savings in 2014 could range between €1.4 billion and €7.1 billion. With recent global events, these potential savings will be significantly larger and also important to the energy security debate.

The Department of Education (DfE) school development programme

The iSERV approach has now been adopted as the energy evaluation measure for a £4.4 billion investment by the DfE to support the rebuilding and refurbishment of 537 schools across England from 2013-2022. The iSERV methodology is used to monitor and benchmark operational energy performance in all new schools and major refurbishments in England in order to meet required energy use targets. Over 100+ schools built under the programme have been assessed to date.

The DfE uses the iSERV data to help inform energy and carbon targets for the schools it funds. It also uses the data to help achieve greater understanding of how its design targets impact on the occupants health and wellbeing. This then feeds into new design requirements for future DFE schools including their ambitious route to net zero carbon ambitions. The approach and findings are also being used in non-DFE Schools in Wales too.

Adoption of continuous energy monitoring within the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD)

The iSERVcmb research directly informed the latest version of the EPBD which was incorporated into national law of all EU member states in March 2020.


"iSERV enables us to obtain information on energy performance in a technology and design neutral manner and demonstrated an ability to reduce operational energy use in practice that will enable us to optimise the operational performance of the new school buildings."

Hershil Patel, Head of Energy, DfE Design Team

Meet the team

Key contacts

Afroditi Konidari

Knight IP et al – “Benchmarking HVAC System Energy Use Using Sub-hourly Data,” CLIMA 2013 Conference, pp. 12, Prague, June 2013 published in proceedings. Available from HEI.