Who leads?

When all the science has been agreed, and the best way of saving the planet has been agreed and all the opposition to the science of climate change has dwindled away, whose job is it to lead the way?

Recent experience has demonstrated to me that there is a lack of clarity in our thinking about how to tackle climate change at a neighbourhood level in the UK. We have put in place a lot of new environmental standards in the UK, particularly in the arena of new buildings. We have put many sticks in place in the form of various pieces of legislation. What we haven’t done is make much progress with the carrots that should form part of any major initiative to change a culture.
The example I will give that prompts this entry is a situation where three large new housing projects are being planned in a London borough. The borough planning and energy teams are aware of these projects, the Greeater London Authority’s planning and energy teams are aware of these projects, but the only person who has thought that it might be a good idea to put them together is a representative of an energy company. By ‘putting together’ I mean consider the three projects to be one in energy terms. Community energy projects are key to a lower CO2 emission future. Yet in two public bodies whose role it is to oversee energy and emissions no-one has thought or acted to make this happen.

It may turn out to be impossible or impractical to make all three projects function on one energy system, but it appears that there is no process at work to make it visible that there are three projects planned to happen that are close in space and time and offer an opportunity to improve CO2 emission reductions. The potential reductions available from three projects put together is greater than the reductions that can be achieved from the three projects acting separately.
It is clear that a way to gain the benefits of local renewable energy is to put projects together that are going to happen anyway. What is missing is an obvious mechanism that is going to make that happen.
In the long term it is likely that most urban areas will have a heat network linking their building heating systems. These networks allow the spare heat from one building to be used by the next. It allows homes and commercial buiildings to be heated and cooled by the same equipment, as most homes need heating during the morning and evening, whereas most commercial buildings need to be heated during the working day. It will be the building managers job in each case to ensure that they feed the same amount of heat into that network as they use, or else to pay for each unit of heat that they use. Before a new building can attach to the network a study would demonstrate if there is already capacity in the network to fulfill their heat needs, and if not they would need to design their plant to supply the deficit. This is the situation in Denmark where heat networks supply about 90% of the heat demand for Copenhagen.
This is a long way from being the situation in the UK although there have been some large networks created in London, Sheffield, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Southampton. Many of these networks were pioneered by Local Authorities or Universities which are organizations that use a lot of buildings but which are managed centrally. What we need to achieve quickly in the UK is a situation where disparate buildings owned by disparate organizations are joined by heat networks. At the moment it is difficult to see how this can happen. No one seems to feel that this is their job. Until someone does feel that it is their job, then the situation is likely to remain the same, projects will continue to happen, and instead of making large gains in CO2 reductions quickly, we will continue on the business-as-usual track to nowhere.


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