Response to the Chancellor’s Spending Review

The Chancellor’s statement yesterday was well trailed beforehand so there were few surprises. It seems that the “greenest government ever” is in fact true blue in tooth and claw with a continuing policy of reducing leadership in central government (by decreasing funding of staff) and increasing the expectation of self-reliance by industry.

Buried in the lengthy statement that dwelt very largely on the “back to work” theme was the commissioning of HST1, the prospect of a new North South Crossrail and additional funds for flood defences. All good news for the concrete farmers.

As far as greenness was concerned, there was little said but it is clear that the message concerning the long term availability of secure energy is now well embedded. A number of key issues were put forward:

  • Firstly there was the promise of a strike price for electricity that may bring the construction of new nuclear a little nearer. Without this underpinning of future revenues the private sector is always going to be shy of the massive investments needed with very long term recovery periods.
  • Secondly there was the promise of additional investment incentive for shale gas exploration. Shale gas has the potential to fill a difficult hole in energy supply whilst the nuclear builds take place. Hardly green but a pragmatic response badly needed.

One of the difficult issues our industry is going to face is the additional loss of leadership/sponsorship and infrastructure that civil servants have given us through departments such as DCLG, BIS and DECC. As their resources have been pared to the bone, it is unsurprising that delays associated with regulation, planning reform, energy reduction programmes (Green Deal for example) are becoming ever more visible. The question is do we have the energy will and resource to fill that void? The Chancellor specifically identified other industries as the future – “synthetic biology to grapheme” but did not repeat his earlier commitment to a zero carbon built environment.

In a nutshell my take-away from this statement is one of the need for self-reliance and the need to build better “regulation” from within our community rather than expect government to lead. Either that or don a cowboy hat.

Getting life cycle costing right

Stuart Thompson

Stuart Thompson,
Senior Design Manager,
Morgan Sindall

A guest post by Stuart Thompson of Morgan Sindall 

The NRP (Norwich Research Park) Enterprise Centre project is an Exemplar Low Carbon Building, which is targeting BREEAM Outstanding and Passivhaus Certification.

The project for the University of East Anglia (UEA) is being delivered using a collaborative single point of delivery system by main contractor Morgan Sindall and its team, which includes architects Architype, civil, structural and environmental engineers BDP and Churchman Landscape Architects.

The centre has been created to achieve a 100-year design life and aspects of the development will be constructed using traditional methods. Locally sourced materials including Thetford timber, Norfolk straw and heather, chalk, lime, hemp and flint will be used and the lecture theatre will be constructed of rammed chalk while various buildings will be thatched. The development is expected to be completed in early 2014.

A key aspect of delivering the Exemplar Low Carbon Building at UEA is ensuring that the project has the lowest life cycle cost possible. The life cycle cost of a project is often discussed in construction but not usually followed through therefore it’s been fantastic to work with a client team which is happy to dedicate time and resources to evaluating this aspect of the development in such detail.

As part of the life cycle costing process, the design team met with consultants from BSRIA to consider how the building’s Passivhaus specification might affect its life cycle output. It was reassuring to know that the early analysis proved that the Passivhaus specification has life cycle benefits. You can watch a film about our workshop below:

 

Following the initial life cycle study, we followed up with a workshop that included a mixed group of various representatives from the client team. We learnt more about which issues were of particular interest to the various client representatives, such as predicted energy costs, climate change considerations, maintenance, robustness of filters and the type of finishes used. The debate did not simply focus on the initial capital costs, but also about legacy issues, robustness and replacement. We covered a full range of topics, including energy source, landscape materials, PV and roofing, lighting and floor finishes. The client maintenance team fed back to the group about their current issues and concerns too.

BSRIA's Peter Tse at the workshop

BSRIA’s Peter Tse at the workshop

What was interesting following such detailed debate was we were able to address the long term issues and this changed our initial concepts within the life cycle analysis. Our changes have made our project report totally specific and the real use and maintenance scenarios follow the life of the building. For example, how often timber windows will be re-painted, how often timber floors will be sanded and sealed and whether the LED light fittings will be able to handle the lamp life and transformer life claims. The workshop allowed the group to ensure that the life cycle analysis is extremely relevant and targeted to this specific project and we will now be able to use the information garnered during the process to shape the scheme over the next few months when detailed design commences.

This landmark project is part-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (the largest single ERDF project in the region in the 2007-2015 funding round) in addition to funding from UEA, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and BRE.

Look at carbon, not energy

We urgently need a clear strategy for decarbonising the grid…and here’s why.


by thinkpanama, creative commons, flickr

The world is still awash with energy.

Peak oil may have passed but peak coal has not. Nor has peak gas, and nuclear and renewables are now a rising trend.  In other words, the problem is not a shortage of energy it is too much carbon.

The trouble is, at the moment it’s hard to find a quick and easy way of taking carbon out of the primary fuel mix. So, the focus is on reducing loads, getting more out of each unit of carbon fuel, and using so-called renewables to substitute for fossil fuel.

We’re too used to having energy on tap, generated and piped from a distance. Community scale services challenge this view of life (we’ll be debating this at our briefing). Low-carbon communities attempt to use waste in order to distribute relatively low-grade heat rather than high-grade energy.

This heat is ‘free’ insofar as it recovers energy from electrical generation, household waste, or from geothermal sources. Of course, nothing is actually free. Pipe work, pumping, capital costs and so forth means that fixed costs can exceed the notional cost of the primary fuel burned to generate distributed heat.

Because of high capital costs and the long lifetime of systems (like water mains), financial planning for low-carbon communities needs to take the long view.

We  don’t know what the carbon advantage of such systems will be in the future. If there is a significant and quick (economically speaking) rise in zero carbon wind and marine generation, and carbon sequestration in coal fired plants becomes the norm, then the carbon intensity of the grid will reduce to the point where the advantage of community based systems is lost.  In short the carbon arguments for community heating systems depend crucially on the speed of decarbonisation of the grid.

This is a community-scale heating dilemma. We should have invested in CHP/DH a couple of decades ago when we had access to North sea gas – instead we face the prospect of digging up the roads yet again and forcing householders to abandon their cherished boilers. But, without a guaranteed connected load and the effective displacement of high carbon intensity grid supply it will be difficult to make community scale heating financially attractive to a commercial investor.

So, we should focus on decarbonising the grid or develop heat-sharing technologies through low-carbon communities?  These are mega questions and need a national strategy where government must lead the way. What will be the role of the building services engineer and construction teams in planning and delivery whole-community solutions?

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