Karen Fletcher calls for government to grasp the important links and make decisive steps to keep up with its successful emissions reductions

At the December 2018 Mitsubishi Electric seminar on ‘Transforming the Housing Technology Market’ the industry gathered to discuss how we can improve the energy performance of buildings, with a particular look at heating technologies. 

One of the major points raised by speakers was that so many government incentive programmes have been dropped or are closing in the next couple of years. This is something that the government’s own national sustainability watchdog, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) raised in its 2018 report.

As the report last year also marked ten years since the Committee’s inception, the publication looked all the way back over the last decade. Overall, the Committee says the UK government is not doing too badly in reducing our carbon emissions – in fact, we are top of the G7 list.

Building insulation rates in homes are 95% lower than they were in 2012

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Editor of Modern Building Services

Less successful

The problem is we’ve achieved that by decarbonising our energy production. The CCC concedes that this was one of their early recommendations. However, we seem to have done that at the expense of other areas where emissions (beyond power and waste) have plateaued.

Government policy in other areas, including building performance and related carbon emissions has not been so successful. The CCC warns government: “End the chopping and changing of policy.”

The Committee points to programmes which have been dropped, often at very short notice, including Zero Carbon Homes.

The Feed-in Tariff scheme for solar PVs ended at short notice; and the RHI which ends in 2 years.  

Because of dropped government scheme on home insulation, the CCC calculates that building insulation rates in homes are 95% lower than they were in 2012.

The Committee also called for better enforcement of regulations that are in place: “…the consumer is cheated when higher energy bills are locked-in for generations when stated building standards are not enforced.”

Now the work starts

The fact is, the UK has relied on decarbonised power generation to achieve its emissions cuts, but now the real work has to begin. Understandably, a number of organisations, designers and installers are cynical about relying on incentive programmes, given that they can be withdrawn without ceremony.

Some believe, however, that lower energy use and carbon emissions can be achieved without reliance on government financial support. Mitsubishi Electric’s Max Halliwell, commenting on the fact that so many schemes have been dropped or are due to close shortly, said: “We don’t need incentive programmes.”

He pointed to lower CO2 emissions factors now applied to electricity in the SAP calculations, leading naturally to electricity as the future energy source of choice for designers and builders.

Good design

Of course, achieving more efficient heating in homes is not simply a case of installing a heat pump in every home – far from it.

The CCC states that ‘Heat pumps could be crucial to decarbonising heat in UK buildings.” But reputable manufacturers know that the technology will not deliver the results it can, if the building is not well designed, and correctly insulated.

Good design and modern construction techniques will be central to successfully delivering buildings that are better for the occupants and the environment (and that applies equally to non-dwellings).

TV presenter and architect George Clarke (a speaker at the Mitsubishi Electric event) has taken his own steps, setting up the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE) which aims to introduce children to the concepts of design as well as encouraging better construction of homes.

A joined-up view

This is where the CCC’s call for effective regulation and strict enforcement really will be a driver. Without enforced legislation on building performance, building design and construction won’t change – this is where we do need government assistance.

We are now at a point where there needs to be a joined-up view of building design, building performance and environmental impact.

Those involved in the building services will have heard this message many times, but now government needs to grasp these important links.

The UK faces a lot of uncertainties in its future, but it can make decisive steps to keep up with its successful emissions reductions – no need to wait for a vote on this issue.

As the CCC report says: “Act now. Climate change will now pause while we consider our options.”

Karen Fletcher is editor of Modern Building Services