Meet Mark, Virgin Active energy manager
- Jul 27, 2011
Name: Mark Donovan
Company: Virgin Active UK
Role: National Energy Manager
Length of working: Six months in new role, but over five years in previous role as National Maintenance Manager for Virgin Active in Iberia
Loves: Travel and music
Hates: TV advertising
Recommends: Looking at alternative ways of doing things, but try to simplify where possible and have fun doing it.
What do you do at Virgin Active?
My job is to manage the energy for all 69 of our UK health clubs, but as the role is still relatively new, it changes and expands all the time. My role is to develop a cohesive and sustainable energy management strategy so that we can improve the energy performance of our buildings as much as possible.
Do you have any personal or company targets?
We have an ambitious plan to reduce our underlying energy consumption by 10% over the next two years, but recognise that business growth will be a key driver of increased consumption in future years.
What are the biggest challenges of working in sustainability within the Health Club sector?
There are various challenges, some are technical, some are financial, but a lot are to do with people and bringing about a focus on energy by converting energy monsters into lean mean energy machines. That is why I am encouraging staff to use lots of oomph in meeting the energy reduction challenges that face us.
Trying to quantify energy saving opportunities is also a complex issue as there are so many variables; from outside air temperature, to the amount of sunshine hitting the windows. These are things you can’t control or quantify accurately.
I am lucky that Virgin Active has fantastic installations and brilliant staff. But many buildings, especially older ones, do not benefit from energy efficient design which in itself presents various challenges. Sometimes there is little that can be done to improve energy efficiency without significant long term investment. It’s a question of trying to evaluate the most realistic options to reduce energy demand and still keep members happy.
What has been your biggest win in terms of energy savings?
We have raised the profile of energy usage amongst our engineering maintenance staff and this has brought about renewed focus on energy saving. Just by looking at night usage and electrical equipment that runs all day unnecessarily, we have found that it’s possible to make significant savings without affecting our members' comfort. We have also made cheap and easy improvements such as changing air-conditioning on/off times and switching off non-essential appliances and lights left on overnight. From this simple exercise we found typical daily electrical energy savings of between 40kWh and 90kWh could easily be achieved.
The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) soon comes into play – has that helped to drive energy efficiency at Virgin Active?
I think most people in the industry recognise that the CRC, is a prime driver in getting companies to work harder at being more energy efficient. However, let’s be honest, it’s a very confusing mix of penalties and threats with little in the way of rewards.
It was hoped that the CRC would reward businesses which became more energy efficient. Whilst there are some incentives, it does not appear to create a level playing field. There will be some kind of recognition through the league table, which will result in good PR. But it would not be surprising if the heads of many energy managers will rest on their companies’ position within the league table! Energy managers of tomorrow could rise and fall much like the football managers of today. But without the army of fans; oh and the occasional phone tapping scandal maybe!
Where have you found it hardest to drive efficiency?
The areas that have most impact on gym members are clearly sensitive to the business. We always have to provide optimised comfort levels regarding our customers. We can’t have dim studios, lukewarm showers, cold swimming pools or stuffy gyms!
One frustration is that some of our building control systems are not controlling energy efficiency; many are password protected so we can’t make the necessary changes. Usually the manufacturers hold these passwords, and they are unwilling to release this information without first having a maintenance or service contract in place! Anyone good at cracking passwords?
Do you work with others within the industry, and if so how?
I mainly liaise with energy people via conferences and by contact with various companies offering energy saving solutions of one kind or another. It is useful to meet others who are tackling similar problems, to share ideas and look at different ways of trying to provide solutions. In that respect, I am also very fortunate to benefit from being able to tap into a wide range of experience and knowledge from within the Virgin group.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to make their home or business more energy efficient?
1. Improve the visibility of energy consumption. You can do this by simply logging your meter readings at regular intervals and producing graphs to show trends and highlight any alarming peaks in energy.
2. If you want to invest a little and make things a lot easier, then you could consider getting a “smart meter” which measures your energy and displays graphs automatically.
3. Air conditioning and heating equipment generally contribute the highest percentage of energy use in most buildings, so good thermal insulation and good shading is important as are controls.
4. Fit programmable seven day timers to any high power electrical appliances that could be left on accidently.
5. Depending on the size of the building, occupancy sensors and/or photocells are always worth considering. Energy efficient lighting is also good; but usually saves less than reducing your heating or air conditioning.
6. Once you have got all of the above under control, then you could think about investing the money saved in a good holiday, or some solar panels to further reduce energy demand.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Never have been a fan of growing up!!
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