• Maria Galavan
  • 6 min read

Collecting and analysing energy data is a key component in assisting the public sector to meet its energy targets.

You may have heard the saying that ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’ and that is very true of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.SEAI manages an energy ‘Monitoring and Reporting’ system for the public sector that shows the value, and power of, robust energy data collection to enable and inform decisions and policy.

The Climate Action Plan set specific targets for the public sector to ‘lead by example’ in relation to reducing its own emissions and influencing behaviour across wider society. Public sector bodies and schools are required to improve their energy efficiency by 50% and reduce their CO2-equivalent [i] emissions by 30% by 2030.The new targets build upon the public sector’s 2020 target of a 33% improvement in energy efficiency, of which 27% was achieved by the end of 2018. 

[i] Each greenhouse gas has a different global warming potential (GWP). It is expressed relative to the GWP of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is taken to be 1. CO2-equivalent of any greenhouse gas is the amount emitted multiplied by its GWP.

What data is SEAI tracking?

SEAI has been collecting public sector energy data since 2010, primarily to monitor progress towards the 2020 target. The amount and quality of data gathered has increased year-on-year. Eighteen public bodies reported using spreadsheets for the initial pilot; this increased to 98 public bodies the following year. By 2019, the compliance rate for public bodies reached almost 99%.  Schools have been required to report since 2014, with compliance rates steadily improving from 26% to 73% since then. SEAI’s  latest (sixth) annual public sector energy report is based on data from 345 public bodies and 2,678 schools.  The reported primary energy consumption was 10,178 GWh for 2018.

Public bodies and schools  currently  report energy consumption and activity data, as well as details of their energy management programmes and energy-saving projects. Energy consumption relates to electrical, thermal and transport use  . 

Each public body must select and report annual values for an appropriate activity metric. The metric should reflect the organisation’s activity level and relate to what drives energy consumption.  Examples of common metrics for an office-based organisation are floor area or number of staff. 

This metric-based approach means that the system tracks energy consumption per unit of activity rather than absolute energy consumption from year to year.  For example, if a school uses the same amount of energy but has a larger number of pupils compared to the previous  year, it is deemed more energy efficient. The latest results show that the public sector as a whole improved energy efficiency by 27% since monitoring began (and is on course to meet the 33% target by the end of 2020).  However, absolute primary energy consumption reduced by just 10% over the same period because activity levels increased by about 2% per annum on average.

SEAI developed the reporting methodology and we provide guidance and other supports to ensure that all public bodies and schools report in a consistent way. Each year we select sample data points to check their accuracy. Data issues are highlighted in SEAI’s Public Sector annual report and we provide recommendations and support so public bodies can address any problems identified. By doing so, we aim to improve the quality of the dataset year-on-year.

What is the data used for?

Every public body is required to complete an annual energy statement. Since late 2018, we have made the statements available on the SEAI website. We also publish additional information on individual public bodies and schools, such as renewable energy consumption, energy-related CO2 emissions and details of energy-saving projects.

Public bodies use the data to analyse their energy use. It helps them identify the significant energy users within their organisations as well as opportunities for energy savings. 

SEAI uses the data to develop case studies so that public bodies can learn from their peers and to report results to each government department for their aegis bodies.

SEAI supplies data to various government departments to assist in the formation of public sector energy policy.  Examples include the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.  Our data was used to project various future scenarios that helped inform the new public sector targets in the Climate Action Plan. 

The public sector data is used in the CSO’s annual Business Energy Use survey.From 2020, the survey outputs will be integrated into the National Energy Balance and the National Emissions Inventory.  

Increasingly, public sector energy data is used in external projects. We recently provided data on the energy consumption of public sector buildings to feed into the creation of the upcoming Dublin Region Energy Masterplan.  We provided schools’ energy data to assist both the Dingle Peninsula and Cork Energy Master Plans. This year, we will share local authority data with the Local Government Management Agency.  This data will be used in the National Oversight and Audit Commission’s annual Performance Indicator Report. A robust homogenous source of public sector data is very useful for projects such as these. We are currently working to make our datasets more easily accessible to researchers, academics and other interested parties.


What about the future?

The new CO2-equivalent target is for an absolute reduction of 30% by 2030. Therefore, activity metrics will not be relevant for this target.  The public sector must reduce its emissions by 30% even in the face of increasing activity levels.  It will be interesting to see how this target interacts with the 2030 energy efficiency target of 50%.The availability of good quality data will be key for each public body to determine how specific actions and projects will affect progress towards each of the targets and to make decisions accordingly.  The interplay between energy efficiency and decarbonisation will require public bodies to investigate competing investments carefully to ensure maximum benefit.

As Ireland moves towards a net zero target by 2050 with the public sector leading by example, it will be more important than ever to maintain a high quality dataset on which to base policy and strategic decisions. Each organisation that contributes data to SEAI’s online system is helping to inform public sector climate policy, as well as facilitating their own progress towards their climate targets.