NEUTRAL IS POSITIVE – CARBON NEUTRAL, BACK ON THE AGENDA By Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

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Earlier this year the government scrapped its zero carbon homes plan – again. Were the plans too ambitious or were they just simply not required or valued by the industry? Many believe it was the wrong decision. But the question remains, are zero carbon or carbon neutral buildings financially achievable in the current climate and does the desire still exist to strive to create them?

In May of this year the government overruled the House of Lords and scrapped the zero-carbon homes policy – a policy it had scrapped in July 2015. The House of Lords had attempted to reinstate the standard for all new homes through an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill but the proposals were thrown out. Instead, the government committed to a review of energy standards in current Building Regulations. To many, including the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), this is seen as a very ‘weak clause’.

The abandoned zero-carbon rules, which were due to come into force this year, would have required new housing developments to generate energy through renewable sources such as solar panels or ground-source heat pumps. So why the u-turn and where does that leave our drive for lower energy homes?

One reason given for the scrapping of the regulations was to boost housebuilding. This seems a contraction given the fact that in July, two months after scrapping zero carbon homes, Housing minister, Gavin Barwell, said that the Government remains committed to building 1 million new homes.

So whilst we are getting mixed messages from Government and a lack of legislation to drive the carbon neutral agenda, how does the market view our position? Is there a place for zero carbon homes?

Sustainability is now considered a norm. However all too often motives for sustainability, especially in the commercial sector, are short term and driven by motives such as quick financial gain. For example, carbon reduction with the driving force being reducing immediate energy costs rather than long term resource efficiency. In the housing sector, whilst there is no doubt that housebuilders are ‘making hay whilst the sun shines’, there are more discerning clients, especially housing associations, looking at the future and realising that the great gains are made by playing the long game.

You only have to look at the growth of BREEAM the internationally recognised measure of sustainability for buildings and communities. More than 530,000 certificates have been issued under BREEAM on more than 24,000 projects in over 70 countries and over 2.2 million buildings and communities are registered for certification. This has to be the largest, global, indicator that developers, tenants and clients see the value in sustainability.

Whilst achieving zero carbon isn’t easy and it can come at a cost, many are now understanding the long term gains. It is estimated that a mixed-use development built to BREEAM Outstanding will add around 4.8% to the overall capital costs. However the payback in terms of lower running costs can be less than 10 years. Long game? 10 years isn’t that long!

The growth in the application of passive techniques in the UK and the reduction in cost of renewables are now making zero carbon a commercial viability. Yes there is still work to do to educate homeowners what living in a zero carbon homes means and the lifestyle changes required. However at a time when consumers are looking at how they can save themselves money, present someone with an opportunity for low or even zero utilities bills and they will bite your arm off.

I am pleased to see more clients looking forwards and talking about how they can achieve carbon neutral developments. We need to make sure that zero carbon is seen as a long term positive and like sustainability, becomes a norm rather than a aspiration.

District Heating: It’s Becoming Centrally Important – Marcus Eves, Darren Evans Assessments

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There is an old saying that there is nothing new under the sun and district heating certainly isn’t a new idea. The concept, also known as community heating, has been around for decades and has been implemented successfully throughout the world, particularly in urban environments and other areas of high building density.

District heating is a straightforward idea which can bring fantastic efficiencies and while its uptake in the UK has been relatively slow, the agenda to combat fuel poverty may mean this is about to change. Simply put, heat and hot water are supplied to a number of buildings from a central energy source via a network of insulated pipes. Heat exchangers in each of the buildings deliver the heat to them, removing the need for individual boilers or other heat source, with the network acting as a normal wet system.

The drivers for district heating in the UK are also well established. Regional and national targets for energy saving and carbon reductions are forcing councils to implement as many sustainable strategies as they can think of. You will not read a Core Strategy or Local Development Plan without coming across the phrases ‘sustainable communities’ or ‘district heating.’

Many UK local authorities are taking a keen interest in district heating following the success that has been seen in some nearby European cities. Copenhagen for one has had a network since the 1970s, and today this delivers 98% of the city’s heating needs. London and the rest of the UK have come a little late to the party however and will view this figure as an impossible goal. There are currently not enough heat networks so retrofitting to meet demand is a certain challenge on the infrastructure.

Local and Regional policies are however pushing for the need to future proof. The beauty of heat networks is that once an insulated network of pipes is laid, what is connected at the end to produce the heat can change and adapt as the environment around it changes or a technological development is achieved. This could involve replacing fossil fuel plant with renewables such as biomass or tapping into waste energy, such as the scheme currently being considered to utilise the 25°C air which is vented all year round from the London Underground.

If you are building a major development within the confinements of the London Plan (the GLA’s overall strategic plan) it is mandatory to consider decentralised generation of heat and power. The expectation is, where appropriate, that the developer’s proposals should seek the follow a hierarchy as follows: 1. connecting to an existing heating or cooling network, 2: implementing a site-wide CHP network, 3. installing a communal heating and cooling network. Any system should be future-proofed and designed to connect to a district network if one becomes available.

When designing the layout of the site, thought should be given to its density and optimising installation of a system. This will include understanding the energy demand of the site, identifying locations suitable for heating plant and associated hot water storage as well as internal layouts for the risers required to move the water around the building.

There are a number or online tools which can help developers maximise the potential savings available for implementing community and district heating. Arup for example has developed a Carbon Calculation Tool which allows developers to estimate CO2 savings for new and existing district heating schemes with different sources of heating. Another useful resource is the London Heat Map which has been developed as an interactive map which identifies where existing heat networks are located and areas outlined as having potential for decentralised energy.

Where a site has been identified as suitable for a community heating system, consideration must be given to the use of Combined Heat and Power. This is a well-known approach to simultaneously producing electricity and heat onsite increasing energy security. Further to simple environmental benefits, the introduction of CHP can bring both social and economic benefits in the form of low cost electricity and affordable warmth, lower life cycle costs and lower management/maintenance costs. The system must be sized adequately in order to ensure a constant operation which will maximize the potential savings.

With stricter regulations on installation, regulation, maintenance and control the installation of a district or community scheme enables the efficient transportation and use of heat for a wide variety of users. There are unrivalled opportunities to allow a broad range of energy generation technologies to work together to meet demand for heat enabling fuel flexibility. Although capital cost can be high, the whole life cost benefit from infrastructure which can be expected to last much longer provides a means of securing significant reduction in CO2 emissions through the optimisation of heat supply.

The opportunity for improved local fuel security via district heating must be seen as key to helping to provide a long term method of tackling fuel poverty.