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MIMA stress need for fabric first to underpin smart buildings

Fabric First Pivotal to Success of Smart Buildings

Fabric First Pivotal to Success of Smart Buildings

MIMA’s message to the National Infrastructure Commission “A successful move towards smart buildings is underpinned by the “fabric first” principle”

The most recent National Infrastructure Commission’s report on The Impact of the Environment and Climate Change on Future Infrastructure Supply and Demand will aid the Commission in putting together scenarios for 2050, and that those scenarios will inform the assessment of future infrastructure needs.

The inclusion of environmental and climate change effects in the scenarios is clearly very important, being key drivers of change. Anticipated changes in the climate over the coming decades and the urgent need to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions will directly affect the demand for infrastructure services.

Reduce Carbon Emissions

Energy used in buildings – both domestic and non-domestic – currently accounts for a significant proportion of UK greenhouse gas emissions – around one fifth of total non-traded emissions in 2016. Emissions from the buildings sector have come down since 1990, as shown in the report, but there is still a long way to go. Indeed, the Government’s latest projections for emissions abatement, published in March 2017, indicate that the UK is not on track to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets, and that emissions from the domestic residential sector are set to rise by 10% by 2035.

Further reductions are so vital to meeting carbon budgets, will require that fabric energy efficiency and energy performance standards in buildings are raised. The result: buildings require less energy to heat them to a comfortable level, and energy consumption at the national level falls – even as the population grows and rebound effects are taken into account. Falling energy consumption, of course, takes the pressure off the supply side and the investment needed to supply energy.

Protect Consumers – Manage Demand

At a strategic level, not only does energy demand management, including the improvement of the building fabric, help to de-risk national energy supply strategies, it is also one of the most effective ways of protecting consumers from the full force of energy price rises and volatility in global energy markets.

It is vital to make significant progress on fabric energy efficiency, including insulation, as the UK works towards decarbonising the electricity grid and a greater proportion of buildings become electrically heated – a more expensive and carbon intensive form of heating compared to gas.

The country anticipates a rise in the up-take of microgeneration technologies for heat and power such as Solar PV, Solar Thermal and Heat Pumps. We must simultaneously and safely upgrade and insulate the fabric of buildings to minimum levels, otherwise risk wasting renewable energy, and in the case of heat pumps, reduced performance of the systems. The “fabric first” principle is a key tenet of energy policy.

The move towards smart buildings with technology which enables businesses to control their heating, hot water and appliances should also be matched with a quality building. Being able to precisely control when the heating comes on, in order to be comfortable and save energy, has much greater value and impact in a building which is not leaking heat.

Job half done

Energy efficiency in the domestic sector has also been a significant driver in reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions and the NIC must make this clearer, both in terms of past successes and the potential for energy demand and emissions reductions in future.

However, the job of upgrading the building stock is only half done. The investment potential is large. All existing UK buildings need to be brought up to a reasonable standard of energy efficiency, judged to be the equivalent of at least Band C on an Energy Performance Certificate. There are over 20 million homes in the UK below this standard, and many millions still need insulation.

A new piece of research in 2017 by the highly-respected UK Energy Research Centre has analysed the expected energy savings resulting from raising the energy performance of UK homes to EPC C. They found that one half of the energy currently used in housing could be saved by investing in a mix of current technologies encompassing improved energy efficiency, heat pumps and heat networks.

Cost-effective investments to 2035 could save around one quarter of the energy currently used which is approximately equivalent to the output of six nuclear power stations the size of Hinkley Point C. Finally using Treasury guidance for policy appraisal, this investment has a net present value of £7.5bn and accounting for other benefits, such as improved health, avoided gas imports, and benefits to the electricity system, increases this estimate to £63.9bn.

Frontier Economics is also due to publish a report in Autumn 2017 setting out why upgrading the building stock should be designated as a Government infrastructure investment priority, and what a building energy infrastructure programme would look like in practice.

What the NIC must do

MIMA has strongly recommended to the Commission that the scenarios they prepare clearly include assumptions about energy demand, energy efficiency and/or the energy performance of buildings. Leading scenarios such as the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios set out their assumptions on energy demand and efficiency gains as it has such a profound impact on national energy use and on climate change mitigation efforts.

However, the Government has not yet allocated any public capital funds to support home energy efficiency programmes even though it plans to spend over £100 billion of public capital funds on infrastructure projects by 2020. It is imperative that the NIC recommend that improving energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority as part of a wider balancing of the energy system.

The energy efficiency sector is unified in its calls to see building energy efficiency made an infrastructure priority, as has happened in Scotland, and we now need to see this become a reality through a clear recommendation by the NIC and a government commitment.

Originally published in Issue 9 of Insulate Magazine

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