The United Kingdom Green Building Council (UKGBC) recently released its latest Renewable Energy Procurement Summary Report – and it resonates strongly with our view of the urgent need to transition buildings to energy efficiency in this country, in order to meet net zero targets.
The report is detailed and in-depth - being, in effect, the output from several other reports preceding it - so below we’ve distilled a few of the points that struck us as being particularly relevant to our industry and our customers.
Buildings can make or break net zero
We’ve said many times before that buildings account for nearly 18% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, but one of the most sobering points the report makes is this: in order to meet net zero targets, we need to decarbonise all of that energy consumption completely. Anything less and net zero will not happen.
It’s a race against the clock –but one that can’t be won simply by improving current and future building design. Older buildings, with poor insulation and outdated heating and cooling technologies, are those that generate most carbon and are most energy-inefficient, and in this country we have literally millions of them.
One in six homes in England (15%) and a fifth of homes in Wales (23%) were built before 1900, according to the latest Valuation Office Agency data, and most of the rest were built between 1930and 1982.
Commercial buildings paint a similarly archaic picture. According to the most recent research on record, from the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, over 1,375,000 commercial buildings in England and Wales date from pre-1940, with many millions more dating from 1940 to the 1990s.
The likelihood is that many of these buildings do not meet the emissions and energy efficiency targets necessary to achieve net zero – and so the importance of retrofitting them with low-carbon and energy-efficient technologies (see our previous article - Energy-Efficient Buildings Need to Happen Now – Age and Size No Barrier!) becomes alarmingly clear.
Renewables: buildings and networks must get smarter
We’ve written before about the technical skill involved in ensuring renewable energy sources in buildings perform optimally – photovoltaic solar panels, for instance – and don’t end up conflicting with each other and actually wasting electricity, and we stand by this.
But the report pushes for a fundamentally more efficient electricity network, driven by a smarter approach to demand, consumption, and use, to significantly reduce emissions at both a building and a system level – and it makes total sense.
The principle is complex, but involves finely balancing four elements – renewables, additionality, time-matching, and onsite renewables and flexibility.
The renewables piece focuses on maximising the proportion of the electricity delivered from renewable sources. Additionality is about increasing the extent to which procurement contributes to creating additional renewable capacity or supporting technologies/infrastructure (storage, for example).
Time-matching seeks to match electricity consumption with an hourly measurement of the renewable constituent of that consumption, and onsite renewables and flexibility supports the idea that buildings should maximise the amount of onsite renewable generation and have the capability to respond flexibly to the availability (or otherwise) of renewable electricity.
It’s a critical combination, because the reality is that the electricity network as it currently works doesn’t handle some consumption scenarios very energy-efficiently at all. As the report highlights, for example, “Times where renewable supply exceeds demand are also increasing in frequency, and this often leads to the output from wind farms being curtailed, wasting valuable zero carbon energy.”
Putting pressure on suppliers
Finally, we applaud the toolkits featured in the report that enable consumers of electricity (building owners and managers included) to ask difficult questions of their electricity suppliers, in order to send “demand signals” that reinforce net zero expectations.
The toolkits cover principles for quality procurement, indicators of procurement quality, and metrics, and there can be little doubt that a concerted approach by the industry to compel suppliers to be more transparent about the origins of their product will, overtime, force a shift in how that product is generated.
Preparing buildings for net zero now
However, time is just one more thing the planet is short of, and we can’t expect the electricity supply to hit net zero overnight.
But an energy-efficient building, by definition, will use less electricity, and contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, in much shorter time scales.
And so we’re proud that we make buildings more energy-efficient every day.
Get in touch to find out more about how we can help you achieve energy-efficiency for your building– whatever its age, size, or function.