A capital idea for all?

The draft London Plan aims to make the city zero carbon by 2050. Hilson Moran’s Marie-Louise Schembri looks at the benefits for end users

It’s probably best we start with one of the most ambitious areas of the draft London Plan – making the city zero carbon by 2050. As part of this long-term, phased strategy, the mayor is proposing that all major new developments are net zero carbon from 2019. While this is not new for residential developments – with the current target for non-residential buildings at 35% – the plan introduces minimum targets for onsite energy efficiency savings and overall onsite low carbon initiatives for these schemes. Whatever savings cannot be met on site can be offset through a payment at planning – as is currently the case – or developers may be given an option to offset carbon offsite, as long as evidence of delivery is provided.

So how does this affect development proposals? The minimum saving required from energy efficiency measures is going to make architecture, construction detailing and building services work even harder, especially in residential. The 35% onsite minimum target will continue to force major developments to go down the district energy route, but the draft London Plan proposes a heating hierarchy, similar to the current cooling hierarchy. Will this confuse things further and affect planning costs?

Refreshingly, the draft London Plan moves away from the current emphasis on combined heat and power (CHP) and prioritises use of secondary heat and fuel cells. In fact, a focus on air quality – and a requirement for the heat source to demonstrate lower NOx emissions than an ultra-low NOx boiler – may mean the death of CHP in future projects. Selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) systems for controlling NOx cannot currently achieve these levels, despite their large attenuation capability.

The offset payment to the new zero carbon target for non-residential is bound to increase planning costs for developers, but it should also result in more passive/hybrid energy efficiency strategies in offices, and encourage more innovation in the capital. These include mixed-mode ventilation and intelligent environmental controls, which are also being driven by an increased awareness of the financial benefits of workplace wellbeing.

Shell and core developments, such as retail, will struggle to achieve the onsite target unless letting agents and the retail sector catch on to the new London agenda. The same goes for developments next to high-level noise sources and where there is already poor air quality.

 “Landlords should empower tenants to take control of their energy bills”

The third tier, Be Green – known as the energy hierarchy – unsurprisingly lists energy storage alongside renewable technology. We envisage heat recovery, energy storage and heat pumps to feature strongly in near-future energy solutions in the city, and this is something Hilson Moran is advocating firmly.

There is great potential for carbon offset payments to unlock energy savings from existing stock in London. However, the draft London Environment Strategy focuses on funding to overcome fuel poverty, mainly for residential. The draft London Plan’s heat hierarchy is interesting, but is rarely going to be applied to existing housing stock. While capturing and storing waste heat, renewables, and smart energy management will all be necessary if we are to meet national carbon targets, they are not going to solve fuel poverty unless thermal fabric is improved.

To explore options for those affected the most – developers and end users – we recently completed a study on how storage batteries, alongside other infrastructure, can benefit all parties to a greater extent. While we’re in agreement that capturing and storing energy is essential, we believe there is a great opportunity for developers to get a return on investment from energy infrastructure and smart energy metering. Landlords should empower tenants to take control of their energy bills, and residential developers and landlords should encourage consumers to do the same.

Developers are spending more capital expenditure on energy infrastructure than ever before and this trend is expected to continue. While energy-storage systems will probably reduce the relative need for utility reinforcements, it has started to make financial sense for developers to own energy infrastructure, rather than sell it off to an energy services company (Esco). This enables a return on investment from an additional asset on site.

Allowing flexibility and cost savings for the occupant can also be addressed through smart energy management technology, although this has to be enabled by the developer and factored into the Esco’s financial model. A move in this direction is already under way, with electricity network operators giving considerable time and resources to changing their system architecture in preparation for an increase in renewable energy generation and storage by consumers – so why not encourage it further?

As an industry, we are responsible for the longevity and sustainability of new buildings and refurbishments. The mayor’s draft plan addresses sustainability, but we need to make this feasible, and find innovative ways to tackle our energy issues.

Marie-Louise Schembri is an associate sustainability consultant, and head of the Masterplan Energy & Environment Group at Hilson Moran.