UK heat pump market has weathered Covid-19 challenges. Coherent policy support is now needed to unlock its full potential.

by Krystyna Dawson, BSRIA Commercial Director

BSRIA has released its latest global heat pump market reports, including the eagerly awaited report on the status of the UK heat pump market.

Last spring, deep uncertainty set in across the markets as lockdowns in many countries disrupted trading. There was fear within the heat pump industry of a significant slowdown in what had previously shown dynamic market growth.

Indeed, the global heat pump market posted a decrease of 1.5% in 2020. However, performance varied across regions: with 12% market growth year-on-year, Europe has been at the forefront; the UK also saw positive development with heat pump sales increasing by 9.2% in 2020.  

Green Homes Grant

UK heat pump market sales were helped by the RHI and the Green Homes Grant scheme in 2020. The latter has proven to be important for the market, which has seen sustained growth in the refurbishment segment despite the number of installations in new buildings stalling due to the lower level of new home completions.

However, heat pump installation still represents a major challenge in existing homes. The ongoing review of Part L and Part F of building regulations offer hope that refurbishments in homes and buildings will be conceived with low carbon heating in mind, but the review’s outcomes are yet to become a legal requirement.

Moreover, even though there is market potential for a higher number of heat pump installations in existing homes, the government has, so far, been unable to unlock it. The Saturday 27th March announcement of the closing of the Green Home Grant scheme to new applicants by 31st March 2021 has been yet another example of the disappointing approach to deployment of energy efficiency measures and heat pumps.

UK heat pump market: Achieving a net zero carbon economy

Heat pumps are among the technologies the government has identified as key to achieving a net zero carbon economy by 2050. The Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for the UK Green Industrial Revolution includes the target to deploy 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.

The UK saw around 37,000 heat pumps sold in 2020. The extra £300 million in funding, moved from the soon-to-be defunct Green Homes Grant to local authorities to enable energy efficiency upgrades for lower income households, may bring additional installations. But even if all 30,000 applicable homes were fitted with heat pumps, the numbers are insufficient to sustain hope of reaching the PM’s ambitious target.. There is potential for more heat pump installations in existing homes, and the interest in heat pumps is growing among home and building owners. The heat pump industry is also working at full speed to deliver innovative products that respond to end-user expectations and environmental challenges.

HVAC industry skills gap

However, unless demand from existing homes and buildings is unlocked at full scale, and until real attention is paid to the sufficient availability of a skilled workforce, the heat pump market will struggle to see the acceleration needed to reach the government target and make a difference in the level of carbon emissions from UK homes and buildings.

Coherent policy and financial support are needed to match the readiness to act on both industry and consumer sides. Integration of heat pumps in a home or a commercial building requires a holistic approach where design and affordability should be considered to deliver carbon savings, cost savings and a healthy and comfortable environment.

“Clean Energy Revolution” puts building and product standards back on the Federal agenda

by Krystyna Dawson

The inauguration of the new President-elect, Joe Biden, marks the start of a period that could bring a substantial shift in US building-related markets. Air conditioning, heating, ventilation and controls are likely to face requirements from policy and market demand that will change dynamics in several segments.

Net Zero Emissions

With the President-elect’s Clean Energy Revolution announced during the campaign, the federal green agenda is set to make a strong comeback. President Biden signalled his intention to re-join the Paris Agreement, notably on the first day of his presidency, and outlined a national goal of net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050. Although less ambitious than the progressive Green New Deal target (net-zero emissions by 2030), with Congress now on his side he can venture putting his intention into law.

The President has promised a nearly USD 2 trillion investment plan, much of which is due to support green initiatives. He also promised to work towards achieving decarbonised electricity by 2035. Although during the campaign he was careful not to promote the ban of gas and oil fracking, his Clean Energy Revolution includes plans to improve energy efficiency in buildings and houses, and promises high investment in R&D related to zero carbon technologies to produce cutting-edge equipment for internal markets and export.

Even if not all of it might come to fruition, there is certainly a significant change of direction ahead in all industry sectors, including energy and HVAC in buildings.

HVAC Industry

During the Trump presidency, the federal government kept progress in energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment at a low level. This has been countered by initiatives in several states, like California, Vermont, Washington, Colorado Texas and Hawaii, which have been setting their own efficiency standards for a variety of products. Federal standards nevertheless cover a wide range of HVAC products. Hence, the re-activation of ambitious federal efficiency programs will be important for industry and consumers.

California will likely increase its influence on federal decision making, not only as Kamala Harris’ home state, but because of its leading set of environmental regulations and standards. Its Title 24 Building Standards Code that sets requirements for “energy conservation, green design, construction and maintenance, fire and life safety, and accessibility” that apply to the “structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems” in buildings might provide a template for wider adoption. The experience the state is gathering on the application of a variety of solar and heat pump combinations can support the uptake of these technologies on a larger scale.

Green Agenda

With the push towards energy efficiency in buildings, technologies that support their smart operation are likely to see dynamic uptake. Currently, smart buildings represent a niche market across the US, with just some cities in the North-East, Texas or California seeing their increased emergence. They usually belong to corporations who are keen to emphasise their green credentials, aspiring to achieve high sustainability certificates through building sustainability assessments like LEED or WELL.

The impact of the federal policy change on the building HVAC and controls market will not be instant, but waiting for it to become obvious might have serious consequences for market players.  The unfolding of the green agenda by the federal government will strengthen ongoing efforts of market stakeholders and demand from consumers as environmental awareness creates favourable conditions for the shift towards efficient, environmentally friendly products.

Taking action on Climate Change

by Michelle Agha-Hossein, BSRIA Building Performance Lead

Most nations now recognise climate change as an established, perturbing fact that needs immediate attention. We can see the effects in the worsening and more frequent extremes of weather: flash floods, droughts, strong winds, heavy snow, heat waves, etc.

UK temperatures in 2019 were 1.1°C above the 1961-1990 long-term average and it was a particularly wet year across parts of central and northern England. Still fresh in the memory are storms Ciara and Dennis in February 2020 with strong winds and heavy rain that caused significant damage to homes and commercial buildings. There is growing evidence that periods of intensely strong winds and heavy rain are likely to increase in the future.

The UK is not the only country affected by climate change. Many other countries are (and will be) suffering disproportionately. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that we might have just 12 years to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5°C. After this point, the risk of extreme weather conditions will significantly increase. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather will affect all but is most likely to bring catastrophic consequences in many less economically developed countries, where food shortages and water scarcity can trigger deep social changes.

Immediate radical action is required to limit carbon emissions, and the built environment industry can play a crucial role by changing the prevailing culture.

Most building-related carbon emissions are generated from energy use in buildings. However, there are choices that building owners/operators can make and initiatives that they can undertake to lessen the related negative impact on the environment:

In brand new buildings, the most effective way for addressing emissions is reducing consumption through energy efficient design. In existing buildings, the issue can be addressed by efficient retrofitting and effective maintenance strategy. Adopting renewable energy technologies in both cases can significantly reduce building emissions.

Steps building owners and operators can take today.

There are several initiatives/activities that can help building owners/operators combat climate change:

  • Consider ‘net-zero carbon’ targets for your building: UKGBC launched its Advancing Net Zero programme in 2018 and published the ‘Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition’ in 2019. The framework provides the construction industry with clarity on the outcomes required for a net zero carbon building.
  • Ensure the required outcomes for a ‘net-zero carbon’ building are achieved: As advised by UKGBC in the framework definition, initiatives like BSRIA Soft Landings should be adopted in new build as well as in refurbishment projects to ensure a net zero carbon building will be achieved. The BSRIA Soft Landings framework provides a platform for project teams to understand the required outcomes for their project and ensure all decisions made during the project are based on meeting those outcomes.
  • Maintain your net zero carbon building effectively: Business-focused maintenance is a methodology developed by BSRIA that can be adopted to help building operators maintain critical assets effectively and efficiently to sustain a net zero carbon building within budget.
  • Investigate failure quickly: Is the energy bill for your building higher than it should be? Investigate the problem as soon as you can. The first and easiest step would be looking at the energy end use breakdown to see which areas are using more energy than expected. If the issue is related to the HVAC system, check the system’s setting points and monitor the indoor air temperature and relative humidity. Thermal imaging of the fabric of the building can also help to identify, thermal bridging, missing/damaged insulation and areas of excessive air leakage.
  • Promote a healthy diet among building occupants: This is a non-technical initiative that building owners/operators can adopt in their buildings. Eating less meat and gradually shifting to more plant-based foods is vital for keeping us and our planet healthy.  It is important to think about initiatives such as using signage or lunchtime talks, to educate building occupants about healthy diets and encourage them to eat more fruit and vegetables. Research has shown that adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050. Healthy diet is also supported by Fitwel and the WELL building standard.

Building owners and operators, to play their role in combating climate change, should ensure their decisions and the way they create and run their buildings contribute positively to the wellbeing of our planet and its citizens.

So, make a start today and choose the first thing you are going to assess/change in your building to help combat climate change.

To find out more about how BSRIA can help you improve building performance, visit us here.

The wellbeing and environmental effects of agile working

by David Bleicher, BSRIA Publications Manager

How many times in the last few months have you started a sentence with “When things get back to normal…”? For those of us whose work mostly involves tapping keys on a keyboard, “normal” implies commuting to an office building five days a week and staying there for eight or more hours a day.

When lockdown restrictions were imposed, things that were previously unthinkable, such as working from home every day, conducting all our meetings by video call, and not having easy access to a printer, became “the new normal”.

One thing the pandemic has taught us is that changes to our work habits are possible – we don’t have to do things the way we’ve always done them. Since lockdown, agile working has been high on companies’ agendas; but agile working has a broader scope than flexible working. It is defined as “bringing people, processes, connectivity and technology, time and place together to find the most appropriate and effective way of working to carry out a particular task.”

Working from home with a cat

The triple bottom line

Agile working is indeed about much more than changing people’s working hours and locations. It’s about how people work – becoming focused on the outcome rather than the process. It’s about making the best use of technology to achieve those outcomes and it’s also about reconfiguring workplaces to better suit the new ways of working. But, when considering these outcomes, we should be looking further than the financial bottom line. The term triple bottom line is a framework that also brings social and environmental aspects into consideration.

How, when and where people work has a major impact on their wellbeing. The past few months have served as an unintentional experiment in the wellbeing effects of mass home working. Some people are less stressed and more productive working from home, providing they have regular contact with their colleagues. Other people – particularly those who don’t have a dedicated home working space – returned to their offices as soon as it was safe to do so. It depends on the individual’s preferences, personal circumstances and the nature of the work they do.

On the face of it, it would seem that increased working from home or from local coworking spaces would be a win-win for the environment. Less commuting means fewer CO2 emissions and less urban air pollution. But a study by global consulting firm and BSRIA member, WSP, found that year-round home working could result in an overall increase in CO2 emissions.

In short, it reduces office air conditioning energy use in the summer, but greatly increases home heating energy use in the winter – more than offsetting carbon savings from reduced commuting. Perhaps what this highlights most is just how inefficient the UK’s housing stock is. If we all lived in low energy homes with good level insulation and electric heat pumps, the equation would be very different. Perhaps a flexible solution allowing home working in summer and promoting office working in winter would be best from an environmental perspective.

A possible long-term effect of increased home working is that some people may move further away from their offices. For example, someone might choose to swap a five-days-a-week 20 km commute for a one-day-a-week 100 km commute. If that is also a move to a more suburban or rural location with more scattered development, less public transport and fewer amenities within walking distance, then (for that individual at least) there’ll be an increased carbon footprint. Not very agile.

Impact of technology

There’s another aspect that may not yet come high up in public awareness. Remote working is dependent on technology – in particular, the video calls that so many of us have become adept at over the past few months. All this processing burns up energy. The effect on home and office electricity bills may be negligible because the processing is done in the cloud. This isn’t some imaginary, nebulous place. The cloud is really a network of data centres around the world, churning data at lightning speed and, despite ongoing efforts, still generating a whole lot of CO2 emissions in the process. Videoconferencing definitely makes sense from both an economic and environmental perspective when it reduces the need for business travel, but if those people would “normally” be working in the same building, isn’t it just adding to global CO2 emissions?

We don’t yet know what “the new normal” is going to look like. Undoubtedly, we’re going to see more remote working, but responsible employers should weigh up the pros and cons economically, environmentally and socially. Terminating the lease on an office building may seem like a sensible cost saving, but can a workforce really be productive when they never meet face-to-face? Does an activity that seemingly reduces CO2 emissions actually just increase emissions elsewhere? Any agile working solution must take all of these things into account, and not attempt a one-size-fits-all approach to productivity, environmental good practice and employee wellbeing.

For more information on how BSRIA can support your business with energy advice and related services, visit us here: BSRIA Energy Advice.

District Heating and Cooling and Heat Interface Units are still closely tied markets

Socrates Christidis
BSRIA Research Manager – Heating and Renewables

District Heating and Cooling networks have witnessed significant growth in many European countries in the last five years and this is set to continue in the coming decade. Significant European policy initiatives, such as the Green Deal, country government promotions, alongside increased public and private investment are supporting new business models such as utilities selling heat as a service and not as a commodity, which will drive the market forward.

BSRIA research indicates that the share of heat pumps and Energy-from-Waste in district heating and cooling systems is increasing. This trend is in line with the development of the concept of 5th generation heat networks. These are demand driven and low-temperature networks, using locally available low-grade waste heat (A/C, datacentres, underground stations, etc.), low temperature renewable energy in bodies of water and solar energy instead of a central energy centre. In principle, such systems favour the use of substations at building level, but no heat interface units at the dwelling level, as these are likely to be replaced by heat pumps.

Currently industrial boilers and CHPs remain the main source of heating in District Heating networks. For instance, 85% of planned heat networks in the UK, will have a CHP as the primary source of heating and 50% will have a gas boiler as a backup. The remaining 15% will use geothermal, ground source or water source heat pumps.

Thus, in the short-term Heat Interface Units (HIUs) will remain the link between the apartment and the network.

Going forward, reducing demand for heating and increasing need for hot water and cooling imply that the market will see the uptake of:

  • All-in-one units (heating or cooling and hot water)
  • Cooling units
  • Hybrid units, with integrated electric water heating
Graph showing European HIUs market growth

The main threats for HIUs market progress are the currently lack of consistent quality of installation and COVID-19.

Heat interface units have a major impact on the overall performance of a heat network and successful operation and performance both depend on correct system design and specification, followed by competent installation and maintenance. This has been problematic, with systems inadequately designed and quite often oversized. We see some signs of improvements as the industry becomes more sensitised towards good quality district heating. Documentation is improving as well as codes of practice, testing of HIUs, and further testing on site; however, under tight budgets the emphasis is often for the lowest cost, specification compliant technology. Testing the unit in a lab and then onsite is optional but critical to ensure performance.

Closing of construction sites was the main impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, including lack of cash flow, as the invoicing is done when products are delivered onsite. The industry has also witnessed a lack of new orders from April to June, with some signs of recovery observed just after. Overall, the European sales in the first 6 months of 2020 were between 15% and 30% down, depending on country, when compared to the 6 first months of 2019.

Going forwards, new construction presents a slightly positive picture. During COVID-19 there has been delays but not cancellations in planning permissions; delays as sites operate under social distancing guidelines and some delays for new investment to come through. However, governments and authorities are still eager to go ahead with programs and incentives, with renewed emphasis on the environmental agenda.

Looking at estimations for completions of flats before and after the outbreak, the recovery is likely to accelerate in 2022, and the market is unlikely to recover before. The end of financial support schemes by governments (VAT deferral, loan schemes or furlough) is likely to have a negative impact on many businesses, including contractors. Indications are, that new build and residential sales will be hit harder than commercial ones. Southern Europe is also likely to struggle more, although recession is expected across most of European countries.

Taking all this into account, BSRIA sees the numbers of heat interface units growing steadily but at a single digit compound annual growth rate of just over 4% on a Pan-European basis. The market will become more diverse and will look for more flexible options to cater for high-end, electricity-only heating, mixed-used and communal areas.

To find out more about BSRIA’s District Energy and Heat Interface unit market studies contact us at:

A BEMS is the key to unlocking a more sustainable and resilient data centre

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems

Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems, explains the functions of a Building Energy Management System (BEMS) and the vital role this technology can play in today’s state-of-the-art data centres.

In order to minimise the potential for downtime, data centres must be resilient, compliant with all relevant standards and operating procedures, while at the same time minimising overall energy consumption. BEMS have the proven ability to maintain the high levels of uptime and energy efficiency that are demanded by users by proactively monitoring, analysing, understanding and improving a data centre’s building services infrastructure.

Under control

A BEMS monitors, manages and controls building services and plant by ensuring that it operates at maximum levels of efficiency and reliability. It does this by maintaining the optimum balance between conditions, energy use and operating requirements.

By controlling an entire estate’s building services from a centrally managed location, it enhances the ability to interact with, and improve the quality of, the data centre infrastructure. Intelligently understanding and responding to patterns of usage means that, for example, cooling can be fully optimised and lighting turned off in unoccupied areas.

Being aware of the way a data centre works makes it possible to determine which best practices to implement in order to protect IT assets, while minimising costs and the potential for downtime.

Energy levels

It is estimated that data centres account for around three per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and with growing use of the cloud and the rise of the Internet of Things, that figure is only going to go up. Furthermore, according to the Digital Power Group, the sector uses 50 per cent more energy than global aviation and is now considered one of the major sources of global CO2 emissions.

Efficient use of energy is clearly no longer an option and there is a growing raft of legislation and regulation that is specifically designed to ensure that energy consumption and carbon emissions are measured accurately, and that any applicable data is available for analysis.

Given that up to 84 per cent of a data centre’s energy consuming devices can be directly under its control, a BEMS is without doubt the most effective way to gain a true understanding of where savings can be made, monitored and sustained. A properly specified, installed and maintained BEMS will ensure that building services operate in strict accordance with demand, which will also help to deliver the lowest power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating.

Far from being ‘fit and forget’, a BEMS can evolve with the building over a period of time. It must be regularly maintained and, where necessary, adjusted to ensure that it provides the best possible quality of service.

The bigger picture

Sustainability isn’t just about energy usage though. A BEMS can also limit wear and tear on plant equipment by using it more efficiently and making sure that any maintenance issues are highlighted.

In addition, a properly configured BEMS will be scalable, future proof and full backwards compatible. A system that allows easy upgrading and reconfiguration is always preferable – not all systems are the same and the costs of installation can vary depending on the protocol used.

Trend is committed to ensuring the backwards compatibility of its technology. For example, its new IQ®4 controllers are able to communicate with the very first device that it manufactured way back in 1982. The IQ®4 modules are also interchangeable for additional future proofing, scalability and system longevity – all of which can protect the financial investment in a BEMS.

Always on

According to research carried out by Emerson Network Power and the Ponemon Institute, the cost of data centre downtime is just over $7,900 per minute. Total data centre outages in 2013 averaged a recovery time of 119 minutes, equating to about $901,500 in total cost.

As well as being incredibly inconvenient, it’s the damage to mission critical data, impact on organisational productivity, harm to equipment, legal and regulatory repercussions and lost confidence and trust among key stakeholders that can prove difficult to recover from. A data centre should therefore look to build resilience into its operation via a BEMS, minimising any risks associated with situations such as plant failure or environmental conditions falling outside acceptable parameters.

Alarms can be programmed into a BEMS, so that in the event of equipment malfunction the problem can be identified and rectified as quickly as possible. For instance, on an air-handling unit, if a flow sensor highlights that airflow is decreasing it is likely to mean that a filter is blocked. Addressing problems like this early on will ensure that temperature conditions in a data centre remain within those agreed in a service level agreement (SLA), minimising the possibility of penalties. A BEMS can also minimise the amount of time required to carry out such tasks by either automating them or undertaking comprehensive data acquisition.

Rules and regulations

Compliance with statutory legislation, key performance indicators (KPIs) and SLAs are fundamental to the success of any data centre.

A BEMS provides overall visibility of plant energy use and allows personnel to see in real time what’s happening within a facility, therefore helping to make sure that equipment stays within a manufacturer’s specified temperature and/or humidity range. In addition, details of data centre conditions on a 24/7 basis can be logged to provide a full audit trail.

A growing number of data centre operators are also choosing to put an energy management system (EnMS) in place to achieve compliance with ISO 50001 or the standards used to measure data centre efficiency developed by The Green Grid. Having a BEMS in place will help demonstrate a desire to continually improve a data centre’s energy efficiency.

Therefore, the requirement for this technology in data centres is only set to increase.

For further information please call Trend Marketing on 01403 211888 or email marketing@trendcontrols.com.

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Lighting: the low hanging fruit of energy efficiency

Peter Hunt, COO, the Lighting Industry Association

Peter Hunt, COO, the Lighting Industry Association

Rising efficiency standards in LED technology and falling purchase prices mean that businesses can now expect a shorter pay-back on their investment according to Peter Hunt, chief operating officer at the Lighting Industry Association.  We caught up with him ahead of the launch of the lighting hub at edie Live 2016 which will showcase the latest developments in energy-efficient technology.

Energy-efficient lighting products are particularly well suited to retrofitting applications, explained Hunt, due to the minimal disruption they cause to building fabric, and recent improvements in LED technology. “LEDs have undergone a rapid technological evolution over the past few years and have become a much more fitting replacement for earlier light sources,” he said. “Older LEDs produced a very blue light, but modern LEDs have advanced to the point where you would be hard-pushed to tell the difference.”

“Efficiency has also continued to improve. If you’re comparing the output of LEDs with traditional commercial technologies such as halogen lamps, then the energy savings are now about 80%. At the same time prices have been tumbling. They’ve fallen 20% for three consecutive years. Lighting products that were quite expensive are now much more affordable.”

Nevertheless, a reduction in energy costs is not the only motivation for installing an energy efficient lighting system, he continued. “What many businesses overlook is the extended lifespan of new lighting technologies. Many modern LEDs can last up to 50,000 hours, compared with 2000 hours for halogen lamps. That’s 25 lamp replacements, plus the expense of calling out a maintenance engineer, which can often cost more than the lamp itself. For large commercial applications the savings can be immense.”Improved return on investment means there is now a strong business case to switch to new technology according to Hunt: “A three-year break-even period a few years back, could now be as short as a year or less. Lighting really is the low-hanging fruit of energy-efficiency.”

Surprisingly however, the largest savings that energy-efficient lighting can offer may in fact come from HR budgets. “There’s been quite a lot of research into the link between lighting and wellbeing,” observed Hunt. “Working under light that is too bright, too dim or the wrong colour has been shown to negatively affect health.”

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Energy-efficient lighting systems can help to maintain a consistent, high-quality level of illumination, explained Hunt. “The latest systems can dim down lights closest to windows when the sun is shining, for example. They also have the capacity to adjust the colour temperature of light throughout the day to match natural human biorhythms, promoting a more restful night’s sleep.”

This is a point Sara Kassam, head of sustainability at the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers, agreed with during an interview with edie Live: “With businesses typically spending 1% of their budgets on energy and 90% on staffing costs, many are realising that the big incentive for installing energy-efficiency technology may not actually be the cost of energy, but the potential it has to make staff more comfortable and productive in the workplace”.

Equally, many business leaders are recognising the potential risks from inaction on energy consumption, she explained. “Shareholders want to see a business being run efficiently. Operating outdated and wasteful technology is not good when you’re looking for wider investment.”

“Energy-efficiency is also important in terms of your business’ energy security,” Kassam cautioned. “Wider political issues are creating uncertainty about what will happen to energy prices in three to five years’ time.”

“Becoming as efficient as possible now cushions your business against that risk,” she advised. “After all, the cheapest unit of electricity is always the one you don’t spend.”

BSRIA is pleased to support edie LIVE.

edie LIVE, formerly Sustainability Live, is the UK’s leading energy, sustainability and resource efficiency exhibition for business end-users.  It connects public and private sector energy and sustainability professionals with the information, suppliers and ideas that can make their business more sustainable.

To explore the latest developments in energy-efficient lighting technology, join edie Live at the NEC Birmingham, 17 -18 May 2016.

COP 21 – Success or Failure

This blog was written by Richard Hillyard, a Senior Environmental Consultant

This blog was written by Richard Hillyard, a Senior Environmental Consultant

Well, we have a climate change agreement for 2020 and beyond in the Paris Accord, approved this weekend.  But is this an adequate level of progress needed to seriously tackle the problem of climate change?  Compared to 6 years ago and the utter failure in Copenhagen, first glance suggests yes, but it’s not perfect.

Two weeks ago leaders from around the world gathered for probably the most important and significant international government conferences of our time, COP21. Prior to these talks, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s), campaigning organisations, environmentalists and individuals from all over the world took to the streets to protest and generate an atmosphere of urgency for a strong positive agreement to be achieved.

COP21 started with an inspiring speech of HRH Prince of Wales calling to arms the politicians of the world to take responsibility and deliver an agreement that will start the progress to reduced CO2 emissions and planetary stability. “On an increasingly crowded planet, humanity faces many threats, but none is greater than climate change. It magnifies every hazard and tension of our existence… It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to remain healthy, and safe from extreme weather, to manage the natural resources that support our economies, and avert the humanitarian disaster of mass migration and increasing conflict.”

This was followed by leaders of each country all making the same points, using strong rhetoric, all pointing out the obvious and what the informed already know.  The rhetoric from the politicians had a passion and sincerity on a level that I had not heard before.  Could Paris and COP21 be the success the world and its people need it to be?

Barack Obama, a driving force in these discussions, determined to leave behind a Presidential legacy before he steps down, not worried about re-election stated “the future is on that we have the power to change – right here, right now… One of the enemies we will be fighting is cynicism – the notion that we can’t do anything about climate change” urging a “common purpose [for a] world that is not marked by conflict but by co-operation”, concluding “Lets go to work.”

One of the few blemishes being David Cameron stating, “what would we say to our grandchildren if we failed. We would have to say it was too difficult, they would reply, well what was so difficult?… How can we argue that it’s difficult when in London alone there’s 5 trillion of funds under management and we haven’t already begun to generate the private finance that is possible to help tackle climate change?”

Highly contentious in my view, as it is him and his government that are cutting financial support for clean and renewable energy and instead pushing for shale gas fracking with a very questionable UK energy policy.

Following the opening day, the media lost interest and there was practically no coverage in the mainstream media during the 2 weeks of discussions.  However, from what was available, it was clear there was a hive of activity between the main discussions, informal meetings and fringe campaigns that appear to have been running 24/7. Such is the complexity over agreement of document text, working groups were giving paragraphs to negotiate with each country.

From the start, the French leadership were doing their job perfectly, they communicated a sense of direct urgency and urged the UN to deliver an approved agreement.  In the latter part of  the second week the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ represented, a group of 100 countries, who have been working in the wings secretly for half a year. They helped to push policy agreements through late in the day and on Saturday the world finally got to hear what was agreed.

Not only a commitment to limit global warming to 2oC change, but also to aim to reduce it further to 1.5oC.  This is highly ambitious, yet committed unilateral agreed target., seeing as the world is already heading to a 1oC degree increase in global temperature, limiting it by another half a degree is some target to have agreed.

There are a few challenges with this target, and where the Paris Accord shows cracks, there is no time frame except for ‘second half of the century’ and there are no real mechanisms agreed to ensure delivery of this target, just a promise.  But this is a start, to seriously tackle climate change and hopefully the beginning of releasing the world from its fossil fuel addition.

The agreement includes a legally binding 5-year review of countries targets, and the ability for them to improve their objectives to work towards a low carbon future.   However, 5 years is a long time, long enough for the world leaders not to be in power next time around and be held accountable.  Considering the target of 1.5 degrees, this time frame is not feasible, the reviews are important and are legally binding but should have been annually or every 2 years to ensure targets and commitments are being delivered in a time frame that will actually limit temperature increases. Additionally, how will this be policed and by whom to ensure accountability by nations?

It is also worth noting that the terms ‘fossil fuels’, ‘oil’, ‘coal’, and ‘gas’ do not appear once in the text of the Paris Accord. It looks like corporate lobbying has played a part in the delivery of this final text, which is a real shame as the document should of at least acknowledged the link between the use of these finite resources, their link to GHG emissions and climate change.

Developing countries already receiving financial aid for assisting them with the effects of climate change, all feel they need further support from the countries already causing climate change and in many cases rightly so. This was a contentious area in the negotiations and Saudi Arabia caused a lot of problems due to their economy largely dependent on oil.  But none the less, an agreement of $100bn base line annual aid would be made available.  Many NGOs and commentators believe this to be a significant failure in the process as more help is needed from the developing world to mitigate the effects as well as evolve their economies to the new low carbon energy infrastructure needed.

Listening to the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, their Prime Minister, Francois Hollande, and head of UN, Ban Ki-moon speaking on Saturday morning was for me emotional, are we on the brink something truly incredible as they would have us believe or is the Paris Accord another ‘empty promise’ with no substance to actually deliver?  In the hours and days that have passed, I have had time to reflect and take it all in, I am optimistic and definitely more positive about the international political landscape in this area than I have been for a number of years.  COP21 has managed to get an agreement from nearly 200 countries and this should be applauded long with the target and legally binding reviews.

As Ban Ki-Moon stated, there had to be compromise, no one got 100% of what each country wanted at the start of the negotiations.  I think this is also true from the environmental campaigning, activist and NGO perspective with the agreement not delivering on a level that many believe is required, not going in to detail on how targets would be achieved and not committing enough to help those who will suffer first and most with the effects of climate change.

Wholesale system change doesn’t happen over night, we know this and I believe no matter what would have been agreed in Paris, to many, myself included, it would not have been enough and open for criticism.

Expectation is high and its easy to pick holes in the agreement.  What needs to done, is to reflect and look at the outcomes differently – There is an agreement approved, there is a target agreed, there are legally binding elements and there is some financial aid. I would of taken that 2 weeks ago and I think many others would.

Paris and COP 21 is not the end of the road when it comes to climate change, it is the beginning of the next part of our worlds environmental and climate journey.  The targets are in place, the leadership of the world is agreed that limiting GHG emissions is critical to success.  In fact just 24 hours after COP 21, the UK governments energy policy is already being scrutinised by politicians and media, an early indication of positivity from the Paris talks.

It is now up to us, the environmentalists, the activist and the environmentally considered to continue to drive for delivery against promises, hold those who fail to account and keep on the pressure to those who stand in the way of climate revolution, at the same time, applaud and celebrate where there have been successes and victories. The optimist in me tells me that Paris and COP21 was one of those victories and successes. So let’s embrace it and make it work for our future and the planet.

This blog post was written by Richard Hillyard MSc. Pg Dip. BA(Hons). AIEMA. Richard is a Senior Environmental Consultant at a major international property management company with 13 years environmental and energy experience, including the provision of CRC, ESOS, EED, EUETS compliance, CDP and Carbon Standard Reporting as well as EMS implementation and management. Prior to this, Richard was part of the FM consultancy team with BSRIA and also holds a MSc in Environmental Decision Making.

Just when you thought it was safe to relax about Energy

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Did you hear about the crisis that hit the UK on 4th  November, causing  massive disruption, and provoking outcry in industry, and suddenly sent energy rocketing back up the UK’s political agenda?

You probably didn’t hear this, because the first major threat to the UK’s national grid this winter still left it with a princely 2% spare capacity, sufficient for the National Grid to issue a “notification of inadequate system margin” (NISM), but insufficient to actually disrupt the service.

While this was only the first stage of alert, and while an abnormal lack of wind was an aggravating factor – bringing the UK’s now significant wind generation capacity almost to a halt, one of the mildest starts to November on record may have helped to save the day. As so often in human affairs, a “near miss” is treated as a near non-event. A single “hit” on the other hand could have major repercussions, prompting much more urgent action not just on the resilience of the UK’s national grid, but on how buildings respond to peaks and troughs in energy demand.

BSRIA has been reporting and analysing on Building Energy Management and the issues around it for a number of years now. One of the trends that we have noticed is that over time, more suppliers of building energy management solutions include some form of Demand Response as part of their solution. This enables a temporary reduction in the power drawn by certain services in the building where this does not impact on productivity or well-being.

Our latest review of the global leaders in Building Energy Management showed that almost half now offer demand response, the highest figure that we have seen to date. This includes both the global leaders in Building Automation and Energy Management and suppliers specialising in energy management.

At the same time, energy storage is being taken more serious as a viable and cost-effective way of providing additional resilience and peak capacity, both for energy suppliers and in some cases for consumers. While the UK is still some way from having a thriving market in home energy storage systems comparable to that developing in Germany (where residential electricity is significantly more expensive), it seems quite likely that any significant grid outages will give a boost to the market for battery storage for both residential and non-residential use.

It is still quite hard to judge how probable a major power outage is in the UK this winter. There are already further processes for demand reduction which can be invoked if the situation gets tighter than it did on November 4th. However a coincidence of severe cold with a lack of wind, and unplanned outages at power stations is not inconceivable. And the major strategic initiatives, such as the construction of two new nuclear power plants, will take years to come online.

The UK has got used to ‘living dangerously, and so far has got away with it. But the sensible response to a lucky escape is to learn the lessons, and  not to assume that your luck will go on holding indefinitely.

The very least we can say is that all organisations should be looking at the potential implications of even a short interruption to power supplies, and how they can best mitigate these.

I shall be talking a bit more about BSRIA’s latest research into building energy management and related areas in a webinar on Tuesday 24th November, so I hope that you will be able to join me then

Have you been blackmailed by your Dishwasher? Who Owns the Smart Future?

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Having recently updated BSRIA’s key market studies on Building Automation Controls (BACS), Building Energy Management (BEMS) and Smart Evolution – towards the Internet of Everything, I was struck by a world in a state of flux with  implications for the built environment and technology in general that could be as profound as they are unpredictable.

The structure and make up of our buildings and cities have always been intensely political. The most visible of all human creations, they speak volumes about our abilities, our status and our values and our aspirations. I felt this last month  when viewing the ruins of Ephesus – once the second city of the Roman Empire –  as much as when  I am visiting London or Chicago.

At least since the turn of the millennium there has been a tacit assumption that while technology is the great enabler, much of the change in the way our buildings and cities are designed and organised will be driven by social concerns, typically expressed through politics. In particular, the perception that the threat of climate change requires far reaching action has led to a sustained series of targets, guidelines and regulations to increase both energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, which naturally impacts on the built environment as one of the biggest consumers of energy.

Is this movement losing momentum? The financial crisis and recession affecting much of Europe, North America and some other parts of the developing world has proved to be the most prolonged since the 1930s. Even countries which appeared to escape the worst impact have since experienced either recession or a dramatic slowdown, including Australia, Canada and of course China.

With falling or stagnating production and rising government debt levels in so many countries, it is no surprise that finances and basic economics have come to the fore. Violent conflicts, especially in the Middle East, Africa  and Eastern Europe, but overflowing into other parts of the world, and in turn fuelling mass movements of refugees and economic migration are also seizing attention in developed countries as well.

All of this has sometimes appeared to leave the “green agenda” somewhat on the back foot. Even in countries like Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand, where Green parties have attracted mass support and had a major influence on government, they have seemed to become more marginalised. Britain’s recent elections resulted in a new majority government which has very quickly moved to relax requirements on the energy efficiency of new buildings, and also to phase out subsidies for wind power.

While there is argument as to how far this is simply a question of means, and how much it represents a shift in priorities, there is little doubt that measures to improve energy efficiency or to promote use of smart technology face an uphill path if they cannot also provide a quick pay-back.

Where governments get involved in technology, it tends to be for old fashioned economic reasons.  When  mega-corporations  like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon have been in the spotlight it has mainly been because of accusations of anti-competitive practices or because of their tax policies. Rather less thought has been given to the ways in which companies like these could change the basic structure of society, the balance of power, and the whole environment.

Increasingly these global brands interact directly with a global audience, influencing their behaviour, and in turn being influenced by them. It is no accident that Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon, having established themselves as consumer brands, are now all active in the area of smart buildings, ranging from the smart home to, in Microsoft’s case, providing the data crunching to manage and optimise whole campuses of buildings.

Increasingly we can link these to wearable devices and to creators of virtual realities which could radically change our day to day activities and environment. Even the basic blocks  from which buildings are made can have ‘smart’ properties, from ‘self-healing’ bricks to glass that responds dynamically to different levels of light.

threatsWith artificial intelligence already surpassing human intelligence in certain well defined areas – such as chess playing – questions are raised about how far the technology goes, who owns it, and how much power they will have. Even our homes and offices can study, learn and predict our habits and our preferences, in ways that can certainly be useful, but also potentially disturbing.

For over a hundred years there have been fears about the prospect of vital areas of technology  being dominated by a single concern or perhaps a cabal of companies. So far, in practice, it has been innovation itself  that has come to the rescue. Even the most nimble footed technology giants have been caught off-guard by new waves of technology, from IBM, to Microsoft to Nokia. In the case of building technologies the requirements are particularly diverse, and  it is quite unusual to find a country where a single supplier accounts for more than 25%-30% of the market.

Nonetheless as we look to a future where corporations and, by implication, governments have access to information about almost every aspect of where we are, what we are doing, how we feel and what we want and fear.

While you can probably rest assured that your dishwasher probably doesn’t have a motivation to blackmail you (why were those extra glasses washed out at 3 o’clock last Thursday morning?) you can be less assured that it won’t soon have the evidence to do so.

More information about the latest editions of BSRIA’s market studies on Building Automation, Building Energy Management, and Smart Evolution is available here.

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