Q&A: Joel Kirby on Managing Energy at the Celtic Manor Resort During COVID-19

Joel Kirby is the Energy and Environmental Manager at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales. He is primarily responsible for improving efficiencies to reduce the Resort's utility spend and impact on the environment. Recently, Joel also took on responsibility for energy use at the newly-built International Convention Centre Wales. Joel is an experienced energy manager and is very familiar with the challenges of multi-site energy management. Before joining the Celtic Manor Resort, he worked at The Restaurant Group, looking after energy for several high-street brands including Chiquitos and Frankie & Benny's.

We recently caught up with Joel to find out how COVID-19 has affected energy management at the Resort.

How have the Government measures affected business operations at the Celtic Manor Resort?

The hospitality industry has been one of the sectors most severely impacted by COVID-19. We are no exception at the Celtic Manor. We can no longer offer our services to the public as we usually would and have had to shut down the Resort. As a result of this, and the work retention scheme, we're now operating with a skeleton crew. We do still have one hotel open for key-workers, which means some business operations are continuing as usual. But, it's on a much smaller scale.

How have the Government measures in response to COVID-19 affected your role as an energy manager?

At the moment I'm still in the office. I'm doing everything I can to ensure that we hit our baseload and that our shutdown procedures are maintained. It's become more important than ever to track our consumption patterns across the estate to keep costs to a minimum.

There have been some silver-linings from an energy management perspective. I'm using this opportunity to investigate our baseline for future analysis purposes, something which would have been impossible in regular operation. We've also discovered some maintenance issues which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

Joel Kirby holding the Green Tourism Gold award that the Celtic Manor achieved in 2017

Cashflow is a significant consideration at the moment. Therefore, I'm running forecasts for our accounts team to estimate upcoming utility costs while in lockdown. I'm also trying to stay in touch with suppliers and other key stakeholders. The pandemic has caused the wholesale power and gas markets in the UK to take a downward trend. I'm therefore actively monitoring the market to ensure we take advantage of the current situation to improve our budget positions over the next couple of years — something which will be extremely helpful as we begin the recovery process.

The additional time I have allows me to complete work on future strategies and projects. Some examples include developing staff training schemes and completing paperwork for future compliance audits such as Green Dragon and Green Key. These are tasks that can be difficult to pencil in during normal operations.

How have the Government measures affected the coordination of the wider energy management team at the Celtic Manor Resort?

As a result of COVID-19, and the work retention scheme, we're now operating with a skeleton crew. This means there are less staff to assist with energy management across the business. There is also a strong emphasis on cost-reduction across the whole organisation. Therefore, we've had to pause all energy management projects until further notice. Social distancing rules have also had a direct impact on our contractors and suppliers with most planned maintenance work being delayed or cancelled.

The coordination of energy management has been challenging. But, I'm trying to ensure that the team on the ground are diligent in responding to any utility-related issues and communicating regularly and effectively.

Surple has been so useful for us in this period because it's enabled the energy management team to work remotely and continue to monitor daily energy consumption across the organisation. The communication and collaboration tools within Surple have also helped overcome much of the challenges associated with working off-site.

What specific actions have you undertaken at the Celtic Manor Resort's various sites? 

We've implemented a full lockdown in all of our shut buildings. This means that we've shut down all air handling units (AHU) and our boiler plant. We've switched off pumps or reduced their running speeds where appropriate (for example, swimming pools where we've chosen not to complete a drain-down). We've also switched off any non-critical lighting, fridges, freezers and non-critical networks.

The Coldra Court Hotel has been kept open for key workers

As I said, we've kept one of our hotels open for key-workers. However, we've shut down two of the four wings due to low occupancy, as well as the conference area and leisure facilities. We have, however, maintained a small office space to house critical staff that are unable to work from home.

How are you ensuring that utility consumption is as low as it could be?

We've attempted to switch off all non-essential equipment, therefore reaching our theoretical baseline. This shutdown has allowed us to significantly reduce our costs, in some cases by over 70%. We've maintained the operation of one 200KW CHP engine in our main hotel to generate power at a cheaper rate than we'd otherwise purchase from the grid. This has almost removed the facility from the network entirely, avoiding costly non-commodity costs. This also allows us to maintain our domestic hot water (DHW) at 60 degrees Celsius and above.

What are your 3 essential tips for preparing a building for a shutdown?

1. The most important step is to ensure that all unnecessary equipment gets switched off. Heating/cooling plant is often the most expensive equipment to run in any building, so make sure it's off if not needed. Even switching off the lights is likely to have a significant impact on your bottom line. If you turn off your equipment via a building management system (BMS), be sure to complete checks and analyse your energy data to ensure equipment has shut down correctly. I've often found that due to faults or changes to local switching, costly equipment can still be running when it shouldn't be.

2. Ensure that you have taken precautions for frost conditions on external mechanical plant. Switching off the boiler will also remove the ability for a BMS to operate frost protection, therefore increasing the risk of split coils if external conditions are not favourable.

3. Make sure that empty buildings still have a flushing regime in place to eliminate the risk of Legionella. Also, check your metering to ensure that taps aren't left running. Following these relatively simple procedures can save a fortune. A standard tap running at 4l per minute can cost over £10 a day if left running. 

In your opinion, what impact will COVID-19 have on future energy management practices?

I think it's essential that an energy manager can monitor energy accurately from home if needed to safeguard against situations like this in the future. As a result, I think more businesses will take steps that support their energy managers to do aspects of their job remotely.

surple demo for energy strategy post
Surple allows Joel to monitor the Celtic Manor Resort's energy consumption remotely

Access to accurate energy data and reliable energy management software are essential requirements for this. Surple has worked wonders for us and has allowed us to continue daily energy management work without being on-site. Surple has also helped highlight areas where there may be control issues or equipment that has been switched back on by a member of staff. Businesses that don't have access to reliable monitoring systems should think about investing.

Further reading: Energy management software benefits »

Finally, as I said before, now is a unique opportunity for energy managers to conduct in-depth baseload analysis work. Doing this work now should give energy managers a better understanding of what to aim for with future shutdowns, hopefully resulting in less energy waste.


If you're an energy manager working from home like Joel, then check out our in-depth guide to managing energy remotely for more advice on keeping your business energy costs to a minimum.

Or, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Business Energy Management if you'd like a detailed and practical guide to improving the energy efficiency of your business.

The Celtic Manor Resort uses Surple for its energy management needs. If you'd like to join them, simply book in for a demo by clicking the link below.

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