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Focus: the PLAGE tool, time for a new assessment

The PLAGE is a tool which leads to highly conclusive environmental results, thanks to the efficient management of energy consumption and low costs: thousands of tonnes of CO2 have been avoided, a reduction of around 16% of fuel consumption, and the stabilising of the electricity consumption. The savings made amount to several million euros. Moreover, PLAGE has created several jobs (energy manager), which have often continued even after the duration of the programme.

In the State of the Environment 2007-2008, an interim assessment of the PLAGE tool was presented. 5 years later, numerous PLAGEs have been achieved, with convincing results: it is a good opportunity to highlight the progress achieved in this new State of the Environment.

Objective? To reduce energy consumption

The PLAGE programme (Plan Local d’Action pour la Gestion Energétique - Local Action Plan for Energy Management), which was established in 2005, targets the proactive management of energy consumption. It consists firstly of drawing up an energy register of the building stock, which serves to identify the priority buildings (i.e. the most energy-intensive or those which offer the most energy-saving potential in the short term), and then establishing an action plan. The implementation of the latter goes hand in hand with the monitoring of the evolution of energy consumption (also referred to as "energy accounting"). The action plan covers a period of 3 to 4 years and can be extended at the end of this period with the defining of new objectives (for example: extension to other buildings, more comprehensive interventions in the installations and building envelope).

The PLAGE procedure
Source: Brussels Environment, dpt. Sustainable buildings - guidance for professionals, 2014

PLAGE targets the "major consumers" of energy, both public and private, as a result of the significant surface area of building (stock) which they occupy or own. They belong to the tertiary sector (municipalities, hospitals, schools, etc.) but also to related sectors (including collective housing or residential institutions).

From a voluntary procedure to a regulatory obligation

As a voluntary procedure and pilot project at its launch, various calls for projects (presented in detail later) concerned four types of managing owners between 2005 and 2014: municipalities, hospitals, education networks and companies providing social housing (SISP).

Building on the success achieved, PLAGE has been made obligatory by the Brussels Code for Air, Climate and Energy Management (COBRACE) from 2015 onwards for:

  • Private managers or owners of a property asset which is bigger than 100,000 m²,
  • Public authorities (Federal authorities, regional and community authorities, the European Union) who own or occupy a building (stock) with a surface area greater than 50,000 m².

The mandatory PLAGE transposes various provisions of the directive 2012/27 on energy efficiency. The property assets covered represent a total estimated surface area of 15 million m2, or just less than one tenth of the surface area of the Region (Brussels Environment, dpt. Sustainable buildings - guidance for professionals, 2015): huge potential then compared to the pilot projects which have already been put in place (see below).

The future Air-Climate-Energy plan, which is in the process of being adopted, anticipates lowering the threshold for the mandatory PLAGE for the public authorities.

In light of the results obtained and the particular features presented by different sectors which have benefited from the voluntary PLAGE programme, the voluntary PLAGE SISP programme will be extended.

Presentation of the PLAGE pilots

The PLAGE pilots have been implemented in 434 buildings, making up a total surface area of almost 2.4 million m2. 34 energy managers have been recruited.

The calls for projects differed from each other in terms of certain particular features:

  • For municipalities, the property assets are highly varied: administrative buildings, sports centres/swimming pools, schools, warehouses, libraries, collective housing, etc.
  • In schools, there are extensive periods when the premises are unoccupied (school holidays) as well as a particularly high consumption of fuel (almost 90% of the energy bill).
  • In hospitals, there is a specific energy management given the additional sophisticated technical equipment and the increase in admittances.
  • In collective housing, there is the complexity of the energy accounting per building, given the fact that collective boilers serve multiple buildings.

Convincing results both in terms of energy and the financial aspect

One of the major advantages of this tool is that results are obtained rapidly (representing energy, and therefore financial, savings), resulting in a generally positive net financial benefit: the avoided expenditure continues to grow throughout the duration of the PLAGE, and the return on investment (including the salary costs of the energy manager) is recouped within 5 years on average (Brussels Environment, May 2013). Of course, it should be reiterated that the PLAGEs target priority buildings, where there is potentially significant leeway in terms of energy and financial savings.

All of the PLAGE projects together resulted in the following results (Brussels Environment, 2015) :

  • a reduction in the order of 15% in fuel consumption, without loss of comfort for the occupants (see chart below);
  • approximately 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided every year;
  • a stabilising of electricity consumption (which would have increased by 2% each year without PLAGE);
  • savings on the energy bill estimated at €4.25 million per year;
  • additionally, after the initial period of 3 to 4 years, the participating organisations generally continued to improve their energy consumption management (energy savings of up to 30% compared to the initial situation); and this was even more the case if an energy manager was present.

Evolution of normalised fuel consumption for the PLAGE pilots
Source: Brussels Environment, dpt. Sustainable buildings - guidance for professionals, 2015
SISP = Société Immobilière de Service Public (Companies providing social housing)

* For municipalities, these are the figures for phase 2. The evolution for phase 1 was around 16%.

It is useful to reiterate that the reduction in energy consumption does not systematically go hand in hand with a lower energy bill, due to increases in the cost of energy. Consequently, the PLAGEs in municipalities and hospitals could not achieve a reduction in their energy bills, although they were able to freeze them. Furthermore, the PLAGE is an opportunity to take action which is directly beneficial for energy bills (such as negotiating the energy supply contract) although it is irrelevant for the environment.

A detailed assessment of the energy results and financial gains per PLAGE and even per participating organisation is available in the info-sheets referenced below.

The key to success

The key to the success of the PLAGE tool can be summarised as follows:

  • Focus on close collaboration between all participants, whether they are energy suppliers, professionals managing installations, management teams or even the occupants. In this respect, the role (and expertise) of the energy manager has been highlighted on numerous occasions by the participants as being essential for the success of the project since he or she ensures coordination and monitoring. The awareness of different participants results in their active involvement in the project, but also a change in their behaviour.
  • Draw upon the numerical indicators from the monitoring, which chart the efforts and savings made (both energy and financial). Energy accounting would appear to be a real motivation factor for the participants to continue their efforts.
  • Focus on priority buildings, namely the most energy-intensive.
  • Favour simple actions in the beginning, as well as initiatives which have a rapid return on investment.
  • Later on, generate financial gains thanks to the savings made, which can then be used to pay for more substantial investments which make energy savings, or can even be re-injected into other areas (such as purchasing teaching material in schools).
  • Combine environmental benefit with financial return.

One of the greatest successes is without doubt the frequent continuation of the dynamic after the period of the call for projects (and more often than not, the continuation of the position of energy manager).

Successful interventions for saving energy

One of the key actions, which is simple and has immediate benefit, is adjusting the heating. In fact, the situational analysis revealed that the majority of buildings subject to PLAGE were overheated or heated unnecessarily (for example during moments when they were unoccupied, for example during school holidays in the case of schools). The lowering of set temperatures for air or warm water, or even disconnecting certain installations, allowed consumption to be reduced directly. Of course, automating adjustment possibilities offers an interesting added value.

Another simple action which can be implemented: maintenance of the installations (heating installations in particular). A technical follow-up, as well as a follow-up of bills and including increased requirements in maintenance contracts all allow the detection of anomalies and the optimum functioning of equipment.

It is also possible to increase the efficiency of heating systems by insulating pipes, installing reflective panels behind radiators or replacing obsolete boilers.
Insulation is clearly an essential item, albeit one requiring some financial layout, and can take the form of increasing air-tightness by sealing leaks, or carrying out insulation work in roofs, ceilings and walls.

Date de mise à jour: 30/05/2020