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Martin Fahey explores the road to net zero carbon

So last week, the government announced a plan to get the country to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 making the UK the first member of the G7 group of industrialised nations to legislate for net zero emissions.

We should all applaud the fact that the government is prepared to make such a legal commitment despite what the cynics might call Theresa May’s attempt to be remembered for something other than Brexit.

But whilst these are fine words, all with legal backing, the nation now needs to come together to work out the actions needed to ensure we can reach the target by 2050 or before.

We need to find ways to upgrade these buildings and stop them being so wasteful

Martin Fahey2 Martin Fahey Head of sustainability

Bedtime reading

I’ve been making my way through the 275 pages of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report (Net Zero The UK's contribution to stopping global warming) that led to the recent announcement and in summary, the CCC say that:

-        Now is the right time to set a net zero target. It is technically possible, based on current consumer behaviours and known technologies, with prudent assumptions over cost reduction

-        The net zero target is only credible if policy to reduce emissions ramps up significantly

-        These policies must be designed with both businesses and consumers in mind

-        No one can do this alone and we need collaboration with all involved – including consumers

Building on these plans

This is certainly the approach that we have tried to adopt as a manufacturer of equipment used to keep our internal spaces comfortable, profitable and healthy

We have long advocated the need for the nation’s buildings to be seen as a major opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. 

There are millions of existing homes and commercial buildings that are not as energy efficient as they should be. That is a simple fact. 

Yet many of these buildings are likely to be used well beyond the 2050 target to be Net Zero, so we need to find ways to upgrade them and stop them being so wasteful.

This is in line with our basic view that the ‘cleanest kilowatt is the one you won’t use’, which calls for a thorough examination of the requirements of the building so that heating, cooling and ventilation are kept to the bare minimum needed.

Simply put, this calls for all of us to look at ways of reducing the need for energy to be consumed in the first place.

Then we need to ensure that these buildings are using the most energy efficient equipment available so that the benefits from any energy that is consumed is maximised – and this is where renewable technology can make such a difference.  

Then we should be looking to source the greenest energy available and this is where the growth of the smaller ‘green’ energy suppliers is helping increase choice.

Coolest day of the year

Next week, we will celebrate World Refrigeration Day when the HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) industry comes together to demonstrate how technology based on the use of refrigerants has helped progress the development of modern life.

It is true that medical advancement, food production, manufacturing and the modern levels of comfort we enjoy would have been a lot harder, if not impossible to achieve, without refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps.

And this will continue as manufacturers develop even more advancements to make energy efficiency the key element of every new product.

How is this sustainable?

I’ve had discussions with people who state that any form of cooling is bad for the planet, and I would agree with them if this is allowed when not needed, just as we should not consume energy for anything unless it is necessary.

Rather than condemn cooling out of hand though, we need to approach this in a different way, in my opinion and think of the cooling load for a building (once reduced to a minimum) as an opportunity to recover heat.

There are very few building projects that are able to remove the need for cooling entirely, especially with the vagaries of the British climate, which can see sun, rain, sleet, cold and hot – all in the same morning!, and the need for some functions to be cooled.

What we therefore need to do beyond anything else is accurately work out the requirement for each situation, building, and use, and achieve this as efficiently as we can, whilst looking at how any benefit from cooling (in the form of heat) can be recovered and then re-used elsewhere to reduce energy needed for heating or hot water.

Heat pumps are the future

The same technology in a heat pump that can provide cooling also provides heat.

Heat Pumps are seen in the report as one of the key technologies that can make a difference in the required timeframe due to their efficiency, applicability in a wide range of applications and ability to harvest renewable heat and heat from low grade ‘waste’ heat sources for use elsewhere.

This is critical when so much of our energy demand in the UK is due to the need to generate heat.

They also ‘buy in’ to a grid that is becoming cleaner with less coal used for power generation and an increase in more renewables such as wind.

We know there are scalable, reliable solutions currently available when you consider a heat pump on a project.

It’s not a matter of if we stop burning fuel to generate heat but when, this is common sense and known and accepted by all, including the CCC.

From where we sit, this is all very, very achievable.

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric Living Environment Systems UK and coordinator of the company’s Green Gateway programme.