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Chris Newman talks decarbonisation in a Construction News webinar

I’ve just completed a webinar with Construction News magazine looking at the importance of retrofitting when it comes to achieving net zero.

This is becoming an increasingly important topic because around 80% of the buildings that we currently work, rest and live in, will still be here by the time we reach the net zero target of 2050.

We must accept that we cannot knock everything down and start again with modern, energy efficient buildings – even if we wanted to.

Not only would that be a crime against history, but it would also generate so much carbon emissions that it would do even more harm.

So, improving the energy efficiency and performance of existing buildings is going to be key to achieving net zero.

Everyone is expecting EPC B to become a legal requirement and has started to act

Chris Newman Green Chris Newman Zero Carbon Design Manager

Why retrofit matters

In 2019, Chris Skidmore MP signed the legally binding commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This was an increase from the original 80% reduction from 1990 emissions levels in the Climate Change Act of 2008.

What that means for everyone in the UK is that all roads now lead to net zero.

However, whilst we all know the destination, there isn’t a route map. Not only that but everyone is starting from a different place and is on a different pathway.

Some will find it easier than others and some are already further along the journey but we are all heading to the same destination.

Sticking to the carbon budget

In the webinar, I explain how the government has set ‘carbon budgets’ as part of the 2015 Paris Climate agreement. These are legally binding limits on the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions the UK can emit over 5-year periods.

The final statement on the 3rd carbon budget will be made in May 2024 and, whilst we have just about managed to stay where we needed to be within the required amount of carbon emissions, carbon budget 4 is quite a significant reduction in overall carbon emissions.

We can also see that if we carry on with our current performance, we will be miles off from where we need to be, by the time we get to carbon budget 6.

This means that over the next 5 years, we really need to ramp up activity and efforts to decarbonise society, which is going to require several policy levers to be pulled and several incentives to come online to get us to where we need to be.

Commercial offers some easy wins

There is rightly a lot of focus at the moment on reducing energy use in our homes and everyone is pointing to the target of having 600,000 heat pumps a year installed. There is much comment on what a challenge it will be to train enough people to install this number of heat pumps.

But this is where I would point to the commercial sector and highlight the huge number of commercial buildings that could and should be looked at to really help decarbonise society.

There are around 1.75 million non-domestic buildings in England and Wales and around 2.2m in the UK. Approximately 6% are larger than 1,000 sq m and these use over 50% of the energy in the non-domestic arena.

So this is a huge area to look at and if we can remove gas from these buildings and replace it with renewable heat pumps, then we can make a significant contribution to meeting carbon budget 4.

These commercial heat pumps are available right now and the industry has the dedicated, professional installers to get them fitted.

This is already happening in many public buildings as part of the Public Sector Decarbonisation fund which is heavily oversubscribed each year, showing that demand is there for renewable heating.

A heat pump for every building

We are also seeing a lot of private companies now planning their budgets to remove gas from their sites over the next 2-5 years.

And again, this is where the HVAC professionals can help make a real difference.

There are over 670,000 small, non-domestic buildings below 100m2. There are also nearly 500,000 shops, 350,000 offices and thousands of pubs, hotels, schools, community centres, hospitals, factories and warehouses.

All of them need hot water and all of them can transition from gas to heat pumps.

And all of them will need to do this as the legislation governing energy use in buildings is getting tougher year on year, with the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) likely to move from its current F or G rated to a B rating by 2030.

At least that is what the proposed target is in a published public consultation currently being discussed at the moment. Although not law at this point, everyone is expecting it to become a requirement and has therefore started to act as if it was already passed legislation.

This is estimated to cover around 85% of the non-domestic rented stock, and could deliver up to 10.3TWh in energy savings by 2030, and 4.1MtCO2e of carbon (non-traded) over Carbon Budget 5 (2028-2032).

So, regardless of any moves on the domestic front, the commercial sector can make a real and significant difference, and in the webinar, I highlight some of the solutions available right now.

Chris Newman Zero Carbon Design Manager