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Clean energy threatens to leave construction behind

Daniel Brown

For the first time since the Victorian era, at times the UK’s electricity system is running without the use of any coal – sometimes for days.

Power sector emissions have plummeted and renewable generation makes up nearly 30 per cent of the total.

The government’s tactics to spur on clean energy deployment, including using large-scale auctions for the offshore wind sector, providing incentives for green gas production and supporting rooftop solar, have been heavily subscribed. Technology prices have rapidly improved: offshore wind costs have halved in three years and onshore wind and solar are now the cheapest means of new power generation.

While conventional utility companies have embraced this historic change in the way we boil our kettles, other sectors such as property and construction have yet to realise that technological change and ambitious policy will have spillover effects on their practices as well. 

The UK’s system of five-year carbon budgets, underpinned by the Climate Change Act of 2008, govern the country’s decarbonisation pathway for the next 30 years. By 2050 the goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels. This represents an enormous commercial, cultural and political shift.

While headlines have been made in the power sector, the government – and the Committee on Climate Change that advises on this process – are increasingly focused on more challenging sectors.

Get on the front foot

Those in property development and construction would be wise to start on the front foot. Companies in the energy sector that waited until change was being legislated or regulated are now having a harder time than those who saw change coming and began to reskill, rebrand and reorganise early.

“One measure that could make a significant difference to the built environment’s efficiency is upgrading how we fit electricity supplies to new homes”

Tightening carbon budgets could result in stricter efficiency regulations for new builds, reviews of SAP and other energy performance measures, roll-out of electric vehicle-charging obligations, and minimum requirements for energy self-generation in new homes.

As part of its Road to Zero strategy, the government committed to investigating how electric vehicle chargers could be mandated in new housing developments. Charging requirements for new apartment blocks are also being investigated.

And as battery costs fall and the government positions itself as a world leader in their research and commercialisation, backed by £250m of investment to date, many are seeing the logic in creating home markets and encouraging domestic / commercial energy storage.

Supply upgrade

One further measure that could make a significant difference to the built environment’s efficiency is upgrading how we fit electricity supplies to new homes. 

The Renewable Energy Association is advocating a three-phase supply, rather than a single phase, could facilitate more solar PV, greater electric vehicle charging and more straightforward renewable heat deployment.

This three-phase approach is being trialled at the Parc Eirin Energy Positive Homes development in Wales, so as to better establish more definite numbers on costs and benefits.

As the REA prepares for its Clean Tech Revolution conference later this year, it’s clear that industry firms can benefit massively from the UK’s rapidly shifting energy landscape – but could also be left behind if they fail to prepare for it.

Daniel Brown is policy manager at the Renewable Energy Association

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