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What does 2013 have in store for the low-carbon agenda?

Sustain head of low-carbon buildings Matt Fulford outlines what he sees as the key trends and areas to watch within the low-carbon sphere this year

This year will be a time of major change in the low-carbon agenda, one that brings with it as many opportunities as it does concerns.

Success of Green Deal and ECO uncertain

Firstly, with the start of the much publicised Green Deal and the often forgotten poor relation, the Energy Company Obligation, the big question is over how successful these will be.

There are major concerns regarding Green Deal uptake – especially outside the domestic market – while the lack of performance risk and guaranteed savings could be its downfall. However, if proposed with skill and care, the scheme does offer a clear opportunity for substantial retrofit work.

The ECO offers much greater promise with major schemes for solid wall insulation and the like already in the pipeline. This more direct replacement of the government’s Community Energy Saving Programme and Carbon Emissions Reduction Target represents a considerable opportunity.

The ECO targets and requirements are significant and perhaps the rather restrictive qualification rules will need to be relaxed somewhat to include more measures and a greater section of the population, which will open up even further opportunities.

Seeking value from efficiency

The new year has started with positive news for the motor industry that UK car sales were strong in 2012, largely led by consumers choosing the more efficient ranges now available.

“We can expect embodied water to appear on the horizon this year”

Matt Fulford, Sustain

The construction industry has had many parallels drawn with the car industry over the decades and perhaps this will be another, with occupiers of buildings seeking value and attributing value to efficiency.

However, there are concerns here too; it will be the actual performance of the building in use (not the theoretical design model or the certificate gained from ticking all the right boxes) that will count, so the industry should be moving to design in features that deliver real in-use savings.

Water and flood mitigation rising up the agenda

Water was a key feature of our weather in 2012, with far too much of it causing flooding all over the country. This may result in estate directors starting to consider the risks that the future climate might hold for their portfolios; requirements for climate change adaptation, and especially flood mitigation, are likely to rise up the agenda.

Water will feature at the vanguard of the low-carbon agenda, not due to floods but to the embodied water which has been required to produce the materials used in construction. We are just starting to get up to speed with embodied carbon and can expect the issue of embodied water to gain ground this year.

One item we’ll be hearing less about is the Carbon Reduction Commitment, as it looks to be coming to the end of its life. Announcements in the autumn statement have put it on its sick bed and, while its demise will probably not be until 2016, it will become weaker as the year goes on.

Finally, I wonder if 2013 will be the year when policy-makers realise the barriers to low-carbon retrofit are not all simply about finance?

The Green Deal in the non-domestic sector and the current consultation on electrical demand reduction may fail to be the incentives that compel property owners to take action. Let’s raise a glass in the hope of some time-limited incentives to encourage immediate action.

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