By Chris Brierley, Head of Corporate Affairs at ABC

This week, ABC brought together leaders from the construction and wider #netzero sectors to discuss the challenges facing suppliers and the supply chain in the current challenging market environment, as well as how they can work together to overcome the bigger issue of decarbonising our housing stock (and other buildings).

Key challenges

The scale of the challenge is one we’re all familiar with, with an estimated 28.6m homes in the UK.

The first of our key speakers, Malcolm Davies, who leads on Housing Decarbonisation for the Welsh Government, made clear that the size of the problem means that “collaboration is a must”.

In what could serve as a framework for much of our thinking throughout the day, Malcolm outlined some of the key challenges especially one of the scale and breadth of the challenge. Given that suppliers are not operating in a closed system they, and the construction industry more widely, are competing in a global marketplace for increasingly scarce resources: be that parts or labour.

And, of course, alongside the general challenge of scarcity there are the specific criteria which we deal with in our work at the ABC: making sure that technologies are green, user-friendly and not disruptive to existing environments.

In addressing the challenge of finding a free market solution to heat and decarbonisation, Dr Richard Hall, Clean Energy Specialist at the Department for International Trade, touched on a similar theme, arguing that “government, supply-side and demand-side actors should collaborate to create free market conditions” in which we can reach our decarbonisation goals.

Collaborate and listen

A team of experts from Rayleigh Instruments, SRS Works and Sunamp explained how we can combine technologies to create the ultimate in eco-home systems and decarbonise the nation’s housing. Their watchwords are “innovation, integration and connectivity”, sentiments close to the heart of us at ABC while also highlighting the importance of a systems-based approach to technology. Their collaboration was brought about by ABC who brought them together at our COP26 event last year.

In many ways this session was ABC in microcosm: bringing together suppliers from across the netzero space to talk about their products and what they can do when used intelligently as part of a system. This collaboration goes to the heart of ABC’s mission, and it was heartening to see it in action so frequently throughout the event.

As further contributors focused on the benefits of specific technologies like infrared heating and steam generation, the sheer breadth and depth of expertise in the room became clear to all. When dealing with a challenge of the scale that is currently facing us it is tempting to rely on new technological advances to solve it.

But, as we saw at our event, not only do we have many of the tools and tech already – be they thermal batteries or steam-powered systems – we know how they work. That fact was demonstrated to the delegates in every presentation we heard, and also as they toured the demo homes at our Berkeley site throughout the day.

Stepping back from the specific technologies we need to improve the carbon footprints of our nations buildings, Dr Gabriel Gallagher, from Sustainable Energy Ltd, looked at how to develop decentralised energy networks. The potential in this area is being demonstrated by Sustainable Energy Ltd.’s work in Wales and the South West, where they’ve used large heat pumps to heat entire local areas, based on a more sophisticated and tech-enabled projection of heating demand. This shows the value of thinking at a level between the national grid and individual homes, illustrating the broad range of perspectives and insights which we can bring together to decarbonise our homes, offices and hospitals.

Secret formula

Whilst sharing his “secret formula” of technologies for reducing the carbon footprints of homes, Ian Pritchett of Greencore Construction advised us that “the best way to predict the future is to create it”.

This speaks to the fundamental anxiety about the coming challenges which wracks much of the netzero space but, crucially, it also shows what we are capable of. Throughout the event, we heard from suppliers who had the solutions we need to decarbonise housing and buildings across the UK. And, by working together, I am confident that we will be able to build on the expertise demonstrated this Tuesday, by suppliers and government alike, and meet the challenges facing us (we just need a bit more focus and join up from policy makers).

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