Monday 1 November 2021

Glasgow, which is one of my favourite cities, is the centre of global attention at the moment. In my case, as well as looking forward to seeing what emerges from COP26, I was also remembering a period when Glasgow, and a large swathe of Scotland, led the world in energy management and climate action, (although we didn’t generally think of it that way back then). This reflection started when I was reminded that it was thirty years since I helped design and lead a very large energy management programme in Strathclyde Regional Council, back then the largest local authority in Europe. The project was the culmination of a series of energy management programmes across various local authorities, and writing the Audit Commission guide to energy management – an extremely useful guide for action, the kind of which we need more of now.


Strathclyde Regional Council covered a large chunk of Scotland, included a population of 2.9 million people, 60% of Scotland’s population and had more than 1,500 buildings covering Education, Social Work, offices, the Fire Brigade and the Police.  The energy spend in 1990 was £60m.  The Scottish equivalent of the Audit Commission, the Accounts Commission, using their version of the guide we had written, determined that the Council was the least efficient in Scotland and I was the junior member for a team of three consultants brought in to improve that situation and ended up as project manager.


We used a well proven approach: set a base line, establish monitoring and targeting, survey a sample of buildings, identify a set of standard measures that could be rolled out, and start with the big spending, least efficient buildings.  After a pilot programme in Education and Social Work the Council rolled it out under the guidance of the consultant team, recruiting a team of 25 auditors and energy managers across the sub-regions.


Over two years we deployed £7m of capital on a range of low-cost simple standardised measures including lighting controls, low energy lamps (pre-LEDs of course), heating controls, and heat recovery systems.  Amongst the few high cost measures was a Combined Heat and Power unit installed in the Police HQ which not only reduced energy costs but functioned as an additional stand-by generator and delivered extra resilience to the critical 999 call centre. I was always very well treated by the Police. The audited energy cost savings across the whole project were £10 million per annum or 17%.  Although we were not driven by climate change I do remember writing the first report to the Council ever to mention carbon savings where the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions was equated to taking a number of cars off the road for a year.


Much has changed in 30 years, particularly the context of climate change and our understanding of it, the available energy efficiency technology, and the rise of renewables which were only just starting to emerge in 1990.  However, some lessons from back then still apply:


  • First of all – and critically important – the importance of leadership. The programme was supported 100% by the Chief Executive and any organisational barriers we encountered were quickly knocked over by him.
  • Secondly the need to focus on scale and roll-out. With so many buildings there was no point doing one project here and there, we had to focus on rolling out standard measures across hundreds of buildings – particularly in schools. Scaling and mass roll-out are a different skill set to undertaking one-off projects.
  • Simple metrics of performance and guides are important to prompt action – the Audit Commission guide helped local authorities determine where they sat on a scale of performance and set a pathway for how they could improve.
  • Apply the Pareto principle – do the high users, most inefficient buildings first and then do the smaller ones – you get bigger results quicker that way.
  • The importance of measurement – the technology of Monitoring and Targeting was very different then but we needed to measure and demonstrate results.
  • Next training – we recruited and trained a team, most of whom did not have prior energy efficiency experience and I am proud that some are still active in the field 30 years after.
  • There are large inefficiencies in practically all buildings – whenever they were built.


Back then given the mandate we had we could only address no-cost and low-cost measures. Now, given the scale of the climate crisis and the need to decarbonise rapidly, we need to apply the same approach to higher cost measures with bigger savings. We know the capital is available to invest in such measures, we need the leadership to push for them and make them happen, as well as the right approach to project development and management, coupled with training and capacity building to deliver them. The time for small actions and one-off projects has passed.


At ep group, we work with businesses, investors and governments to deliver net zero and regenerative infrastructure – get in touch if you want to find out more.



PS The title for this piece is a line from ‘Glasgow (Your Heart is Made of Gold)’ by Scott McWatt, which is a great musical tribute to the city.




There is 1 comment on “‘It’s a long way down the M8 tonight’”:

  • Paul Hodson on November 3rd, 2021 at 10:09 am said:

    Thanks for this Steve. I was working on transport at that time, for Manchester City Council. Like you, in retrospect we did climate policy without knowing it. I remember, though, some politicians arguing that now the air quality impact of new cars had (we thought) been tamed, there was no longer a need to encourage a shift to public transport.

Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

Get in touch

Email Twitter Linkedin Skype

Email notifications

Receive an email every time something new is posted on the blog

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency by Steven Fawkes

My book Energy Efficiency is available to buy now

Outsourcing Energy Management

Outsourcing Energy Management by Steven Fawkes

My book Outsourcing Energy Management is available to buy now

Only Eleven Percent