Is London going to go Zero Carbon?

Business Green reported an interchange last week between the Mayor and Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson  in response to his question about the Mayors position on Zero Carbon homes. Boris’s reported response was

“What we are looking at is making sure that we can continue, through the London Plan, to ensure that Zero Carbon Homes are delivered in London and we will be issuing further guidance in due course to provide industry with the certainty it needs about how to do that.” 

Boris reported that London aims to achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 by 2025 and has achieved 14% to date. This represents a per capita reduction of 20% as London’s population has grown by 600k during the reporting period.

It is heartening to hear these words from the Mayor, and I hope that the candidates for the Mayoralty are listening. If devolution is to mean anything it should promote the ability of cities in the UK to sidestep the damaging and short-sighted environmental policies of central government.

Having recently completed a large zero carbon scheme at Hanham Hall with low-rise construction and learned what it means for most of the UK’s housing development, I thought that it would be useful to share below some analysis that we have done to assess how tall buildings can achieve the zero carbon standard. Given that many of the buildings that are proposed for the capital in future are going to be tall it is interesting to assess how the regulations might affect those building types.

The analysis has been done for a twenty five and a forty storey tower with six units per floor to demonstrate how different systems meet the targets. We tested gas boilers, CHP with gas backup, all-electric heating and hot water and finally Air Source Heat Pumps. Three of the four rely on a communal hot water distribution system, the all electric system being the exception.

Energy Options to meet the London Plan and Zero Carbon

Energy Options for a 25 Storey Tower to meet the London Plan and Zero Carbon



Energy Options fora 40 Storey Tower to meet the London Plan and Zero Carbon

What the research shows is that for taller towers there is no difficulty in meeting the current definition of zero carbon. In fact it shows that achieving it is technically easier than achieving the London Plan, as the London Plan has a lower emissions target than the Zero Carbon definition. This is assuming that there is no special treatment for electric heating or hot water, unlike the current version of SAP which is based on comparative performance rather than on a definite figure as set out in the Zero Carbon Hub’s definition.

Based on these figures I would say that towers should be forced to meet the lower emissions target of 10kg/CO2/sqm since in both gas-based options this target can be met. Perhaps an all-electric version could be left as it is at the higher 14kg/CO2/sqm.

It also shows that a very efficient 25-storey building can meet the targets irrespective of the energy system used, the top graphs shows that it can achieve the target in all four options, even an all-electric option. The 40-storey is not so easy. My assumption is that only the roof can be used to house renewable energy,  but for the 40-storey version it would be necessary in the electric options to put some pv panels on the facade to reach the target.

But of course the technical success is not the full picture. In addition to the Fabric Energy Efficiency target of 39kwh/sqm/yr that apartments have to hit, and towers have no difficulty doing so, there is the Carbon Compliance which is shown in the graphs above, and again there doesn’t appear to be much of a problem for towers, but finally there is the Allowable Solutions element which says that whatever CO2 emissions remain must be offset. This offset is achieved by multiplying the tonnes of CO2 emitted, by the figure of 30 years, and by an agreed sum for each tonne. Currently the GLA uses £60/tonne. This produces a figure of approximately £1,000 per apartment to offset the emissions elsewhere.

Sadly the all electric system is unwelcome in London as it it not seen as ‘futureproof’ according to the gas-led ideology preferred by the GLA. This is understandable as an all-electric system does not emit the lowest CO2 emissions possible, at current levels of grid CO2 intensity. What will be interesting to see is how long before the grid CO2 intensity drops to a low enough level to change that thinking. The Committee for Climate Change has suggested that we need to stop burning gas by 2035 to meet our carbon budgets. What is the point in investing in gas burning equipment and networks now if they have to be decommissioned in less than twenty years time?

Certainly an all-electric system is the cheapest to install, avoiding the central distribution system, and it could be argued that an all electric system is just as futureproof as a hot water led system as the Grid is inherently flexible. Interestingly our research also suggests that in the majority of cases an all-electric system is cheaper than a communal system for residents as the standing charges are lower, even if the energy bills are higher than gas. The standing charge is used to create a sinking fund to replace the communal system. If there is no communal system the sinking fund is either not needed or is much smaller, thus lowering residents total bill. The cheapest system of all to run is an individual gas boiler, but no-one would consider installing that into a tower, and it has a higher maintenance and replacement cost than an all-electric system.

A major hole in this analysis is that it is carried out using SAP, which is pretty poor at dealing with apartment buildings. The energy for pumping heat around the building is ignored, as is the energy for ventilating corridors, pumping hot water, lifts, communal lighting etc, etc. Since the communal spaces in these buildings are not heated, SBEM isn’t particularly useful either. As buildings get taller these additional energy uses and losses will become more a more significant part of their energy use, we need better tools to assess them, and more regulations to deal with their particular demands.


Amber Rudd Green?

If the Tories want to achieve any progress on climate emission reductions, and its not clear that they do want to, despite the Rt Hon Amber Rudd’s speech last week, then they have to set out clear market signals that they mean to do so and that they will do so in a way that supports a market which lasts beyond this Parliament. This is too serious an issue to be left to individual Governments to deal with and to be subject to political whims. If ever there was an issue that needed cross-party agreement, this is it.

Clouds over the Capital

Clouds over the Capital

Amber Rudd’s speech on climate change at Aviva sets out some important pointers for how the Government plans to deal with a low carbon economy over the next decade. Having wiped the slate clean of environmental legislation over the last month, their plans appear to be based on a fairly simple idea, that the markets can solve the problem. Given that the environmental problems that we face have arisen because of what Lord Stern called ‘the largest market failure the world has ever seen’, it seems optimistic to me to believe that this approach will work.  That the markets can actually do the work that is required without some significant action by the Government through legislation and policy seems to me to be both unproven and naïve. It is unfortunate that the regulations that the Government has recently abandoned were all sending the right signals to the market; that this Government supports concerted action on climate change mitigation and would use a series of long-term initiatives to achieve that.  In contrast to this, large numbers of the companies who should be lining up to enter this new ‘market’ have objected in the strongest terms to the recent dropping of ambitious environmental targets. It is hard to believe that Amber Rudd has the backing of the Cabinet when she said. ‘We are committed to taking action on climate change and we are clear that our long-term economic plan goes hand in hand with a long-term plan for climate action.’

However hard it may be, I feel that there is little to be gained by complaining that this Government is heading in the wrong direction, because we simply cannot see into the future. There is no getting away from the fact that progress in achieving emission reductions through policy and regulation has been achingly slow. The Committee for Climate Change reflects that much of our current emissions reductions have come about because of the recession and less than one percent of the emissions reductions have come about through environmental improvements. In order to achieve our Carbon Budgets we will need to de-carbonise at a rate of 3% per annum. In order for this Governments plan to work, the market has to be three times more effective in delivering emission reductions than regulation has already achieved.

All of this effort could have been achieved more easily if we had kept some of the previous Governments policies going and not abandoned the ones that were working. I agree that the Green Deal was flawed, but it could have been rescued with a proper finance package, instead of abandoning it entirely. Similarly the zero-carbon housing regulations were heading in the right direction and had massive support from industry, ( with the usual exception of the housebuilders who don’t support any regulation that impacts on their bottom line) and also could have been made to work with some effort. Again this has been unceremoniously binned, sending housing regulations back to 2013, there to stay for the foreseeable future.

What the Tories don’t appear to understand, or are just ignoring, is that in order to create a functioning market you need investment. In order to attract investment, you need certainty, and in order to create certainty you need good governance that doesn’t change the rules without consultation. The stated objective of this Government, to achieve emission reductions through the market, has already been made very difficult by their wilful and short-termist treatment of the companies already active in the market. There is no way that we can achieve the emission reductions we need under the Climate Change Act, without the help of companies providing solar energy, wind farms, low-carbon energy, and insulation. But in dropping planned regulations including zero-carbon housing and the Green Deal, this Government will have alienated most of the companies in all of these sectors.

When the Green Deal closure was announced Amber Rudd MP said,: “ It’s now time for the building industry and consumer groups to work with us to make new policy and build a system that works.”

Having spent a good deal of time working on the development of the Green Deal and on the zero-carbon legislation I imagine I would be one of the people that the minister means when she says ‘building industry’. But why should I spend my time working with Government? The time I spent with the last three Governments has been wasted, as they have shilly-shallied with policy and regulation for a decade, only to bin all that effort when the colour of the party changes. I am certain that many large companies who have invested in Green Deal training and certification will think long and hard before coming back to the table for more.

Angus MacNeil, chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee said, commenting on the Green Deal announcement: “The government has once again slipped out another announcement about cuts to green policies after parliament has risen for the recess. The Green Deal wasn’t working as well as ministers had hoped, but removing government support without bringing forward an alternative strategy is likely to cause further concern among businesses investing in and delivering energy-efficiency measures.”

It is possible that the long-term plan to reduce emissions will be met by extracting large amounts of shale gas to replace existing coal-fired generation, and by constructing new nuclear power rather than insulating homes and building new energy efficient ones. But both of these strategies are very risky propositions, and will continue to meet opposition among voters, and neither are likely to deliver much in the way of emission reduction during the life of the current Parliament. For every Tory who supports a ban on onshore wind, there will be two Tories who would be anti-fracking. Nuclear will continue to be eye-wateringly expensive and it will be difficult to convince an electorate that you are looking after their energy bills when you spend billions on a few projects that will always cost more than budgeted, and leave an expensive radioactive mess to deal with for the next 10,000 years or so.

A long-term decarbonisation plan for the UK needs to be just that, long-term. Energy efficiency measures in the building stock will need a programme of improvements and finance that lasts from now until 2050. Regulations for new housing that meets EU targets for 2020 needs to be considered now, and once set, needs to be left alone for the industry to develop solutions to meet it. Industrial research needs time and money, time that lasts longer than the life of a parliament, and longer than the political life of most politicians.

“We are committed to climate action; committed to economic security; committed to decarbonising at the least cost.” A. Rudd Aviva speech.

The future of our planet is at stake, nothing less. If the market is to be the vehicle that we use to cut emissions, so be it, but it needs to be a market with solid foundations that is left to function for decades, and not moments. The Tories have started their term in office badly, and have lost the trust of many in industry within a few months. If they are going to deliver on their promises, they need to start acting on them and delivering real change that both those in industry and ordinary people can understand and support. In the year of COP21 Paris when the world expects the UK Government to lead on climate action and to sign up to a global deal, they could have hardly gotten off to a worse start.

Hamburg IBA 2013

I had the good fortune to be able to visit the Hamburg IBA 2013 this week. The IBA projects in Germany are a long-running vehicle for urban development that are set up and managed by the local authorities for each city. In each IBA there is a plan to rehabilitate or regenerate some piece of the urban fabric and IBA Hamburg is no exception.

The purpose of this IBA is to integrate the island of Wihelmsburg into Hamburg. It is a piece of land that historically was swampy and used for industrial activity, and has never been seen as a true part of Hamburg.

The IBA projects include a large series of housing projects each with a particular aim or intention, there is a building for health uses, one for older people, one to demonstrate modular timber construction, one for self-completion on the Open Building model, a building that is convertible to other uses, and so on.


The IBA also includes a number of infrastructure projects including a new energy park on the site of a toxic waste dump, Georgswerder Energy Park. The conversion of a WWII air raid shelter into an energy storage and creation plant, and the opening of a new pedestrian and cycling link from the island into Hamburg.

The project also contains the VELUX ModeHome 202 project for Germany, the LichtActiv Haus. This is very much a sister project to HTA’s CarbonLight Homes in the UK and we have learned a lot form this project and are collaborating with some of that team on the post occupancy study of our project.

There is a demonstration of an algae fuelled building which is now a test bed for this unconventional energy source. What the pictures don’t show is that the facade of the building is constantly alive as the algae tanks are ‘strained’ to extract the algae every minute or so. This makes for a rather surreal experience. It is not clear to me that this system should be put on a residential building as there is a lot of fluid being pumped around and its hard to keep that quiet, but it is certainly a fascinating case study and the results will be interesting.


There is much more information on the project website and if you are in Germany this year, I recommend a visit.

FEES Energy standard and Flats over Garages

The new FEES energy standard splits residential development into two sections. End of terrace and detached houses on the one hand, and flats and mid-terraced houses on the other. But there is an important type that is ignored. The FOG (Flat Over Garage). This is a very useful type in urban design terms and is currently usually classified as a ‘flat’ since it is usually one storey of accommodation above a garage. If this classification remains then FOG’s will be required to meet a much higher energy standard than is appropriate to the type. FOG’s are essentially bungalows in the air, with a lot of exposed surface area, often including the underside of the ground floor. This is a problem that the BRE/DCLG needs to address in the forthcoming Part L and SAP legislation.

Doubt cast on feasibility of Carbon Capture and Storage

A study here casts doubt on the feasibility of CCS. The authors state that the studies to date underestimate the amounts of storage that will be required by a factor of between five and twenty times. CCS is one of those technologies that are crucial to managing the transition from a fossil fuel based economy to a clean fuel based one. It is a get-out-of-jail card for the oil industry, allowing them to continue doing what they are doing in the expectation that CCS will make fossil fuel burning feasible for the remaining life of available deposits. This study, suggests that an area the size of a ‘small US state would be needed to store the CO2 produced by a commercial power station. This one will run and run.


I spent some of the past few days at EcoBuild and while the show was very good with a large attendance and a lot of interesting stands, many of the exhibitors are wondering how the show will cope with the move to Excel next year. Few people have anything good to say about it, Excel is soulless, hard to get to etc., so is this the last of the good years for EcoBuild? I hope not as I think it is one of the best trade shows in the UK and has gone from nothing to being an essential part of the calendar in five years.

Home Energy Management Strategy Published Today

Home Energy Management Strategy Published today states that by 2020 the following will have happened:

● every home where it is practical will have loft and cavity wall insulation – an ambition
we intend to deliver on by 2015;
● every home in Britain will have a smart meter and display to help them better manage
their use of energy;
● up to 7 million households will have had an eco-upgrade which would include advanced
measures such as solid wall insulation or heat pumps alongside smart meters and more
basic measures;
● people living in rented accommodation will enjoy higher levels of energy efficiency as
landlords – private and social – take action to improve the fabric of properties;
● there will be wider take up of district heating in urban areas, such as in blocks of flats,
in new build and social housing, and in commercial and public sector buildings; and
● there will be a core of up to 65,000 people employed in the new industry of energy
efficiency, and potentially several times more down supply chains. Jobs will include
installing and manufacturing energy saving measures or providing home energy advice.

This is a seismic shift in the energy policy in the UK and represents the culmination of many years of policy discussion, consultation, workshops and late nights. It is hugely ambitious, and breaks new ground in law and policy. A number of the key enablers that will happen are:

● New community partnerships and an enhanced role for local authorities, including a
requirement on energy companies to consult with local authorities to deliver local  area-based
programmes; and support for district heating;
● Universal standards for the rented sector, including a new Warm Homes standard and
proposals for regulation of the rented sector;
● Invest to save, including replacing the existing CERT mechanism with a new energy
company obligation, and legislation to enable pay as you save financing that would provide
people with eco-upgrades without upfront costs; and
● Support for consumers, including plans for a universal advice service and new standards
for installation.

The key elements for me are:

– the Invest to Save, or Pay as You Save (PAYS) model where a householder can borrow finance to carry out upgrades and the energy savings pay the finance back over a long period. Furthermore the legislation will allow this to be attached to the property and not to the individual carrying out the works. Work will be done with the RICS to develop a mechanism to value property partially on the basis of its energy efficiency, thus ensuring that there is an increase in value of more energy efficient properties.

-the Warm Home standard which will set out a basic energy efficiency target for rented properties the will ensure that the socially rented sector is prioritised between now and 2015.

Grow your own food

Why would you grow your own food? There is a lot of interest in the topic at the moment, lots of media articles on the subject and a huge rise in the numbers of people who are looking for allotment space in towns and cities across the UK. The media think it’s a good idea and they must be right?
Taking a rose tinted view of the world, then yes they are. We have lost a lot by not being involved in the production of our food, we have lost interest in the quality of it, lost satisfaction in the ability to produce it and lost an appreciation for freshness and taste.

But are we going to return to an agrarian society where we all individually produce the food we eat?
No, we are not. There are good reasons why human society developed specialisms, like farmer, tailor, builder, and so on. All these are time consuming skills to learn and apply and it doesn’t make sense for us all to re-learn them and try to turn back the clock. There is also the harsh reality that food preparation is now very scientific, and we expect our food to reach a high standard of ‘quality’ even if this is represented by shape or colour. Some of the standards we measure our food against may have more to do with marketing than health or cost, but we expect our carrots to be orange and straight, and our apples green and round. If we are going to grow our own, we will also have to modify our expectations of our food.

We do need to rethink some of our attitudes to food, since our current attitudes about food have been fostered in an age when it makes sense to fly beans daily to the UK from Kenya. As energy prices rise and fuel supplies reduce it is unlikely that this will remain a viable option in the medium term.
I believe that it will continue to make sense to grow food in a centralised way, through large scale farming, but it will make less sense to store this food and transport it long distances. There have been stories in the press about the number of miles a frozen chicken travels before that last jump from oven to plate. The information startled most people outside the food industry. Generally we expect our food to go from farm to plate by the most direct route possible because that is what has happened in the past. Instead, our food travels to be ‘processed’ in the same way that cars move along a production line. Unbelievably the different parts of the food production line are often in different places, and sometimes even in different countries.

There is a related issue in the mechanisms for food import and export. It has been discovered that the UK and The Netherlands buy and sell roughly equal numbers of chickens to and from each other. Picture, if you will, flocks of chickens flying in opposite directions across the channel, greeting each other en route. There are times when the ‘free’ market looks like an ass.

This type of market led stupidity is coming under more scrutiny, and this is good news for fresh food producers and those who are based close to towns and cities. Farmers markets will increase in popularity, and the market for out of season produce will diminish, but not disappear as fuel prices rise and the push to decarbonise our economies gains momentum. Any effort that individuals can make to replace expensive imports by growing their own should be particularly welcome.

For those who do want to grow their own food, or rather a proportion of it, there are many options. Herbs and tomatoes are particularly easy to grow in small window boxes and grow bags, and allotments are there if you are prepared to wait about 10 years for one to become available. There has been an explosion of interest in this activity in recent years fostered by a society wide interest in being greener, and in an almost equal distrust of the quality of the food we are being sold by the major supermarkets.

Should we be digging up our back gardens and turning our lawns into vegetable beds? Digging up your back garden is probably not a good option as the soil is likely to be contaminated after many years of use of weedkillers and other chemicals. But even a small space dedicated to food production which uses good quality topsoil, and which is ‘farmed’ organically can produce a healthy addition to the table. Fruit bushes and trees produce an attractive display of flowers in spring, so food can be decorative as well as tasty.

I will write an artcile in the near future on permaculture, and what it means for the design of our towns and cities in the future.

Carbon Reduction Strategies (2)

A successful carbon reduction strategy is one that has the following characteristics.:
– it appeals to the majority of people
– it saves money as well as energy in a visible way
– it can be integrated into a normal lifestyle.
– it can be self sustaining.

Why appeal to the majority of people?
The need for carbon reductions is so great that we will need to engage the entire adult poulation in the effort. It will be impossible to engage the population in an effort that does not appeal to them in multiple ways. It will be more likely to succeed if strategies appeal to individuals economic self-interest, to their altruism, and to their general well-being.

Saving money?
To satisfy the previous requirements it is necessary to demonstrate savings to guarantee wide adoption.
To pay for the investment required it is also neccessary to demonstrate savings. The investment will need to be funded at the outset, with the savings going to repay the loans over a long period.

Integration into a ‘normal’ lifestyle.
It is important that designers and engineers do not get carried away with the ‘techy’ side of emissions reductions. Most people freely admitted to being unable to program their VCR, when such things existed, so we must make new systems as easy to use as possible. I know of at least one demonstration house where the environmental controls do not work as well as intended, and the software engineers are based in another country and work in another language. This is not a recipe for success.

New technology can sometimes fit into an existing business model, but sometimes it cannot. The introduction of new technology should be accompanied by maintenance and parts management to ensure that customers are able to enjoy the use of lower carbon tech without breakdowns or having to get ‘under the hood’. We live in an aspirational age, for better or worse, and any tech that fails to live up to the high expectations of the Market will fail and undermine the confidence in all similar technologies.