Tackling the existing building stock as a real energy policy priority

By Mari Martiskainen and Florian Kern, Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand, SPRU

Those familiar with the UK’s energy efficiency policy for buildings are aware that back in 2006 the then Labour government announced that all new domestic buildings would need to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 to help meet the government’s energy and climate change ambitions. To support this goal, a Code for sustainable homes was announced at the same time against which new buildings would be rated. At the time of the announcement not many people actually knew what a zero carbon building would mean in practice. As a result, government and industry jointly set up a non-profit organisation called the Zero Carbon Hub  in 2008 to work together towards realising zero carbon buildings.

As Andrew Warren, Honorary President of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, writes in his “New hub needed to focus on existing buildings” article for the October issue of Energy in Buildings and Industry , the Zero Carbon Hub “has proved to be the acknowledged entity to which everyone turns – companies and Ministers alike – to consider how best to progress towards ensuring that only the most energy- and carbon-efficient new buildings are constructed”. Warren is now calling for a similar hub to be created to deal with the upgrade of the UK’s 26 million existing buildings, most of which will still be around for the next 40 years. Since the UK has one of the poorest housing stocks in Europe and despite a long history of policies aimed at tackling the energy efficiency of existing buildings, much remains to be done. We at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand have been undertaking research analysing the mix of the UK’s policy instruments aimed at building energy efficiency in the past five years. Our initial analysis shows that there is a lot to be learnt from the failure of existing policies such as the Green Deal which addresses the current building stock but has seen a poor uptake. Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced an extra £100 million for the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund on 7th October 2014, but there is still a lack of a long-term strategic solution to improving the UK’s existing housing stock. In terms of new buildings, the zero carbon policy provides an actual regulatory requirement, whereas there is not a similar pressure towards upgrading the existing stock.

As many of our stakeholder interviewees have indicated, there seems to be a lack of coherence in terms of who is dealing with building energy efficiency within government. Having two different government departments, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), addressing different parts of building energy efficiency can create unnecessary confusions for those working in the sector. For example DCLG have to deliver under the EU Energy Performance and Buildings Directive, while DECC is responsible for the UK meeting its carbon budgets. Furthermore, there is a call for more joined up thinking in terms of realising the benefits that better integrated policies addressing energy efficiency and renewables could have – such as ensuring that Green Deal assessments are fully required and followed up with upgraded thermal efficiency before the Renewable Heat Incentive or Feed-in-Tariffs are applied for.

We agree with Warren that there is a need for a more coherent voice and centre of expertise to facilitate the upgrading of the UK’s existing building stock. As Warren notes “creating an acknowledged hub for existing buildings would provide a single point of reference for this long-established sector”. However, we argue that such a hub should not just be a joint collaboration between industry and government, but should also include other non-governmental organisations who have long called and campaigned for the upgrade of the existing housing stock. It should also have clear synergies with existing bodies like the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust and the UK Green Building Council. In addition, such a hub might be particularly effective if linked up with a major programme of the Green Investment Bank (like the ones by the KfW bank in Germany) as both Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey and Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint now agree that energy efficiency is part of our national infrastructure priorities. To make tackling the existing housing stock a political priority is the first step. The second step then should be to have a broad discussion on what sort of hub would be desirable to help facilitate this major infrastructure programme. Andrew Warren’s suggestion is a good starting point for this debate.

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4 comments on “Tackling the existing building stock as a real energy policy priority
  1. It is perfectly clear that quickest and most effective way to cut CO2 levels in the atmosphere is to actually stop burning fossil fuels. The lowest cost method of achieving that objectives is to move houses OffGrid and develop Onsite micro generation of energy. Better still is to have a micro system such as Cut 10 T, which will also produce a personal hydrogen fuel supply for hydrogen electric vehicles.

    This method does not rely on energy eficiencies to cut a percentage of a households level of CO2 emissions, by severing the link to the largest single cause of CO2 emissions, the major portion of emissions caused by the household as stopped. Approx 6-7 tonnes of CO2 per year. Compared to the Governments tackling of cars which account for approx 1 Tonne of CO2 per year taking a house offgrid is six to seven times more effective.


    Yes the result will be Power Station closures, however if we have to cut carbon emissions then power stations being shut down are the essential result.

    Best Regards

    Al Scott

    Cut 10 T

  2. Andrew Warren says:

    Whilst I am duly flattered to have at least ostensibly stimulated your blog, I think you may have misunderstood my definition of who should be involved with such a Hub. I do quite specifically refer to the key role of non-profit altruistic organisations. Within that context, I am not sure I would include any of the three organisations that you name!

    Equally I really cannot claim to be starting this debate : it has been proceeding for some while . Rather, I was seeking to draw it to a conclusion.

  3. @AlvinscottC: I agree that to reduce and eventually stop burning fossil fuels is required to deal with climate change. However I do not agree that therefore we can neglect energy efficiency or energy demand reduction potentials. Even if you want 100% onsite renewable micro generation, it is easier to achieve if your overall energy consumption is lower. Politically I find it problematic if options which are may be part of the solution to the current unsustainable nature of our energy systems, try to fight each other.

  4. @Andrew Warren: Thanks for commenting on our post. I understand you mentioned actors with altruistic motives to be important in your text but towards the end you seem to suggest that such a body might be set up by private actors which we read to mean businesses mainly. Isn’t it also the case the zero carbon hub mainly involves industry rather than other types of organisations?

    The three organisations we mentioned was actually a separate point. Our argument was that point any new hub would be set up within an already existing ecology of other bodies (trying to do similar things, including the three mentioned ones) which can either add to the cacophony or may lead to more ‘speaking with one voice’ which is what you desire. Our point is that if something new were to be set up it would need to be synergistic rather than duplicating what is already there. Or do we need an open discussion of getting rid of some of the bodies in that space?

    Ok fine I wasn’t aware of that. But what is the conclusion? Which actors want such a hub and would find it useful and how can it be set up?

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