Shaping a low carbon future

Work by the government on Building Regulations and the future of heat offers opportunities to be involved with CIBSE activities, says Julie Godefroy

In the past 10 years, the UK has achieved significant carbon savings through the decarbonisation of the electricity grid. Decarbonising heat is now acknowledged as one of the biggest challenges if the UK is to continue on its trajectory and meet its carbon-reduction targets.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is exploring how this may happen, and has published its analysis of technology and policy options.

Much aligns with recommendations by CIBSE and others: there is currently no clear, single contender to replace the wide coverage and convenience of gas heating, and a low carbon heating future is likely to require a mix of options. These include electric heating (with a large role for heat pumps); hydrogen, whether used in fuel cells or for decarbonising the gas grid; and heat networks, particularly in dense and mixed-use areas, where they can take advantage of alternative fuel sources and heat rejection from cooling systems, the Tube or other processes.

Buildings that are not connected to the gas grid are likely to be the early test beds of future low carbon heat options

BEIS also seems to have acknowledged that the market alone cannot deliver such substantial changes, capital investments and infrastructure upgrades, while still keeping energy affordable and protecting consumers: a mix of policy requirements and incentives will be required. The department also stresses the importance of increasing consumer awareness. While this is true, there are probably other key drivers that have more of an influence on the heating choices made by consumers. These include convenience, affordability, advice from suppliers and overcoming the caution of installers towards new products. New regulations will be needed to provide the catalyst.

Buildings that are not connected to the gas grid are likely to be the early test beds of future low carbon heat options – an approach CIBSE has long advocated.

The Institution will continue to develop guidance in this area, in particular for future heat networks (4th and 5th generation and ambient loops), electric heating, and demand management. Get in touch if you are interested in taking part.

Beyond questions of how to meet demand, CIBSE has repeatedly stressed that we must consider energy efficiency, both to deliver carbon savings and to increase the feasibility of low-carbon supply options. Simply put, without demand reduction it is unlikely we will have enough capacity to supply heat entirely from low carbon sources, particularly when huge increases in electricity demand are expected in the transport sector from electric vehicles.

Collaboration on Building Regulations – CIBSE and the UK Green Building Council

After our detailed position paper on recommendations for changes to Building Regulations Part L and F, CIBSE has worked with the UK Green Building Council to produce a common summary statement. The aim of this is to send a consistent message to government and influence the upcoming review of these parts of the Building Regulations. Key elements include:

  • Establishing a clear trajectory to ‘zero carbon’, so the industry can start adopting stretching targets and developing cost-effective solutions
  • Exploring how to gradually introduce requirements on operational energy and carbon, rather than design and as-built requirements alone. As a very first step, this should start with gathering data on operational performance
  • Better addressing indoor air quality and overheating.

Both papers can be found here.

Environmental regulations

CIBSE has responded to consultations on environmental regulations – an area likely to be most affected by Brexit:

  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation on monitoring of environmental indicators: we broadly support this, and have advocated a more robust framework, including a better culture of assessing policy effectiveness, and reporting against science-based objectives (for example World Health Organization air quality guidelines), not just against the government’s own targets
  • Parliamentary inquiry on the Environment Bill, which sets the framework for environmental regulations and enforcement post-Brexit: we support a number of proposals; however, we also have serious concerns, including the independence of the future body that will hold government to account.

Current consultations:

  • Air pollution control programme: respond to CIBSE by 4 March 
  • We are working with the Royal Academy of Engineering to inform the UK’s post-Brexit immigration strategy. Let us know if you would like to inform our work – for example, if you have assessed how skills and/or salary criteria may affect your business. 
  • All can be found here

Julie Godefroy is technical manager at CIBSE