G7 Net Zero and Retrofitting the South West


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With the G7 conference coming to Cornwall in June, it is a timely reminder of the need for action to deliver on the Government's legally binding target of Net Zero by 2050.

Thinking closer to home we know that retrofitting the South West is high on the agenda especially since Exeter City Council declared a climate emergency and pledged to work towards making Exeter a carbon neutral city by 2030 having adopted the Net Zero Exeter 2030 Plan. One of the key goals for Exeter is to create affordable healthy homes with a focus on energy efficiency.

The approach to retrofit

Improving the energy efficiency of existing homes is a key factor in achieving Net Zero. But retrofit is costly, and needs careful planning to benefit from potential economies of scale. To help understand the practicalities of retrofit, Exeter City Council recently completed a pilot retrofit scheme to six properties as part of the innovative 'Energiesprong' initiative. This scheme involved whole house energy upgrades to the highest standards, including roof and wall insulation, panels, a low-carbon ground-source heat pump heating system,  and photovoltaic roof panels with battery storage. This is one of a series of similar pilot schemes across the UK, that are looking at the processes required to deliver retrofit measures on scale.

While the direction of Government policy is clear, the recent chop and change on incentives and support has made it difficult for landlords and homeowners to plan for the necessary investment. The position for new-build homes is clearer, with the recent response on the proposed changes to Building Regulations: Part L and Part F as the interim step towards the Future Homes Standard (due in 2025). Homes built to the Future Homes Standard should produce 75-80% less carbon emissions than current building standards, but this level of change will put increasing focus on the need to retrofit existing homes.

The government's response to the consultation on the interim changes to Building Regulations stated that a "fabric first" approach will be "at the heart of all new homes alongside a low carbon heating system". High fabric standards in homes will improve air tightness and will result in reduced energy consumption.  Achieving this level of efficiency in existing buildings will be challenging, and potentially expensive. That's why approaches like the Energiesprong initiative will be critical to create a pipeline of retrofit works and reduce capital costs.  

Long term thinking

In meeting the Net Zero 2050 target, landlords will need to change their approach to asset management. As more homes are retrofitted with low-carbon heating systems, landlords will need to vary existing asset management contracts and/or procure new services with specialist providers who have the necessary skills and experience to maintain low carbon technologies.

In this interim phase, landlords will need to cover a wider variety of heating systems. Increasingly the scope of services will need to cover the transition to low-carbon heating, including the replacement of gas boilers with low-carbon alternatives. Landlords will need to consider whether existing maintenance contracts can be varied, and whether incumbent contractors have the required qualifications and accreditations.  

Where existing contracts and frameworks are coming near to being re-procured, then landlords should consider the likely scope of services and accreditation that will be required. That should include the ability for service providers to install and maintain low-carbon heating and microgeneration, carry out other necessary modification works and bring in ECO funding and other similar support. As we look towards a low-carbon future, it is important that contracts and specification documents keep pace with the rate of change. If in doubt, seek specialist advice!

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