By Lynne Sullivan OBE, Chair of the Good Homes Alliance and ABC Non-Executive Director
In November, Lord Deben the Chair of the Climate Change Committee said in his letter to the Chancellor :
“Reducing energy demand in UK buildings is now the biggest gap in current Government energy policy”
Its something I have been calling for, for a number of years. In 2020 this was the key driver for recommendations I made on behalf of the Green Construction Board as part of our response to the Clean Growth Grand Challenge to ‘halve the energy use of all buildings’, and subsequently for the 2021 National Retrofit Strategy which I co-authored with others in the Construction Leadership Council. We’ve talked about it for far too long, and now action is needed to address this gap in policy, and that is why I am passionate about the energy systems integration work that the Active Building Centre has been doing since 2019.
RETROFIT MEASURES NOT UP TO SCRATCH
Retrofitting our existing buildings stock for energy efficiency has been the cinderella of climate change policy – notably ignored in the 2006 Zero Carbon (new) Homes policy and a barely helpful backstop U value approach in the Building Regulations until this year. However, numerous industry reports since the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act have highlighted the challenge of buildings heating – which accounts for nearly 25% of all UK emissions – and called for consistency in government policy to tackle the necessary reductions. The Conservative Party pledged in its 2019 General Election manifesto to spend £9bn on energy efficiency, and in the runup to COP26, the Heat and Buildings Strategy emphasised that energy efficiency and flexibility improvements should be made prior to or alongside the installation of a low carbon heating system, whilst signalling the government’s intention to improve the SAP/EPC system to be fit for the purpose. However, previous programmes have had limited success and in terms of actions and impact, current retrofit sectoral programmes fall woefully short, amounting to less than half the manifesto pledges of this parliament.
A JOINED UP APPROACH
Whilst there are only a handful of major contractors in the UK retrofit space, approximately one third of all construction output is in the ‘Repair, Maintenance and Improvement’ sector! – and the potential co-benefits are huge. What is needed is a major retrofit programme which would include upskilling our workforce for the decarbonisation retrofit, but the benefits of doing this would also lead to positive health outcomes too with improvements to currently substandard homes, which is currently costing the NHS an estimated £2bn per annum in poor health of occupants. Our National Retrofit Strategy proposes a programme of actions to achieve 21% CO2 savings by 2030 and retrofit decarbonisation measures to 27m homes by 2040, but more is needed to make this happen.
It needs investment now in skills and leadership and importantly some clearly defined standards which we can all work towards. To get this underway, I am part of the organising group of the 2023 National Retrofit Hub, we are going to produce a toolkit and establish a knowledge hub to help support the delivery of major retrofit programmes for both public and private sectors at a local level.
WAR LIKE EFFORT
To achieve retrofit at scale we need to nurture collaboration of all the groups and skills involved in retrofit, at a level not previously seen. A key component of this is the streamlining of data to make it accessible so people can find information based on property types, different retrofit measures which explains both the energy efficiency of materials and equipment and their impacts on energy, carbon and health. At the Good Homes Alliance Annual Conference which I recently chaired, we had a session on the challenges around energy systems, Mark Jackson from Active Building Centre explained the importance of energy systems integration, how it needs to be done at scale and the massive potentials around optimising time of use and grid energy demand reduction. I was fascinated to hear from other speakers around managing the challenges of capacity and peak load management particularly regarding the role of microgrids. What is clear is all this relies heavily on greater precision on prediction and reduction of demand – exactly what we aim to achieve. I subsequently spoke with National Grid who are evidencing a business case for retrofit to demonstrate, through more accurate and reliable prediction of performance in use, the value of delivered energy demand reduction over investment in grid infrastructure. All of the above I feel shows that the case for systems integration, and scaling up of decarbonisation retrofit, has never been more urgent.