Housing MJ: Time to retrofit our approach to net zero carbon

By Andy Merrin | 30 August 2020

The road to zero carbon was never going to be straightforward. That isn’t because it’s unachievable – it is; but if we are to meet the Government’s targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, then we need to right some wrongs, and this is especially true within the construction and housing sectors.

The focus needs to somewhat shift from future innovations on new buildings, to addressing the myriad of missed opportunities to future proof existing stock. We are all in agreement that any new residential and commercial buildings should be zero carbon moving forward and the industry is well on its way to ensuring this is the case. But new homes only account for 1-2% of total housing stock and 80% of the homes of 2050 are already in existence.

Existing UK households actually account for more than a quarter of the entire UK CO2 emission and more than half of the market has a rating of EPC D or less; so, to achieve such a massive reduction by 2050, radical steps must be undertaken and our sector has to rethink its approach – moving beyond the new and making considerations for the current supply.

With only a small proportion of homes being renovated each year, we believe that the Government needs to consider stimulating substantial investment towards mass-scale renovations, to ensure the country can deliver the necessary alterations to the built environment to help achieve the desired outcomes.

The most pertinent example is probably the Retrofit model, which has been popularised in Europe, (namely the Netherlands), where a revolutionary new approach ‘Energiesprong’ has been developed to deliver ‘whole-house’ refurbishments with a net-zero energy performance guarantee. The programme has already delivered more than 1300 net-zero energy refurbishments as part of a deal between housing associations and industry.

Energiesprong UK has since been set up with the goal of transferring the knowledge and experiences gained in the Netherlands to develop a market here in the UK. The objective was to launch a small number of pilot projects to mirror the work that had taken place in the Netherlands, some of which have now been completed including schemes in Nottingham and Maldon, Essex – which ENGIE delivered. The hope is that these pilots and the lessons learned during the process will now lead to larger schemes and the injection of mass retrofitting solutions across the board.

Government backing and incentives will help trailblaze change, but ultimately, every business and individual on the planet must play a part so we can move from a place of intent to a place of action. This is the sentiment at ENGIE and to recognise our clients’ varying carbon reduction strategies, we have developed ENGIE Zero, to build off the knowledge gained from our extensive housing retrofit experience – typically working around residents while they remain living in their homes.

ENGIE Zero offers a comprehensive, energy-efficient upgrade to a property utilising a whole host of elements, which can be individually tailored to our client’s requirements. This includes the installation of solar PV and battery storage systems, fabric improvements to roof, walls and floor, a low carbon heating and hot water solution, mechanical ventilation and long-term maintenance and monitoring – all for a regular payment which can be subsidised from savings generated by the improvement works.

ENGIE Zero can introduce innovative and smart technologies, including rapid charge EV solutions and smart local energy networks. With a long-term performance guarantee, the removal of gas supply and significant carbon savings, retrofitted homes can help the UK achieve its 2050 net zero target and we are confident ENGIE Zero can be a viable solution to reducing CO2 emissions in UK housing.

Is 2050 a realistic goal or are we being overly ambitious? A goal looks at the long-term and we know the long-term outlook of our planet is in jeopardy so it’s a necessary goal. But actions speak louder than words and the figures speak for themselves. Existing stock poses a greater risk to our carbon footprint than new developments and so this is where investment from our Government is desperately needed to support us in our efforts.

If the UK can take the lead on moving beyond carbon, by significant retrofit of its existing housing stock, then other large economies will follow suit to help save our planet.

For more information on ENGIE, visit www.engie.co.uk/places

Andy Merrin is Head of Energy and Innovation at ENGIE

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