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BSRIA Briefing 2010 - Engineering Low Carbon CommunitiesNovember 2010

Achieving low carbon communities is an ambition of many in the industry, but is it realistic? The speakers at the BSRIA Briefing 2010 debate the concepts and methodologies.

"All of us now accept the need to reduce carbon emissions", said Liz Peace OBE, Chief Executive of the British Property Foundation, who chaired the event. Peace went on to describe that what is interesting, is the debate regarding "the best way" forward and how the vast "competing technical solutions" in the industry make it impossible to proceed. With no single coherent voice to drive the will of the industry, how can low carbon communities be engineered?

"The construction industry buys an embodied energy product but it buys it from people who use operational energy to make it" - Paul Morrell

Paul Morrell OBE, Chief Construction Advisor, elaborated on the recent workings from the Innovation and Growth Team (IGT) who have produced a report - written from the industry to government - in which they are, "hoping to introduce the unitary feeling of low carbon". Due to the complexities of the concept however, as raised by Peace, Morrell stated that government are more concerned about whether or not the carbon that is used is actually fit for future investment.

"If a CHP is actually throwing heat away, it's not a CHP" - Mahmoud Abu-Ebid

Morrell said that: "if the industry wants to change its habits, it has to change its habits right down the cycle". Rectifying bad design choices, incorporating the younger generation in the industry's work and improving regulations and standards, were just a few of the concepts mentioned by Morrell in which the industry can help transform itself into a more sustainable forward-thinking business.

Mahmoud Abu-Ebid, Chief Consultant and CHP and Heat Knowledge Leader of the AEA Group, went on to describe the practicalities of heat energy in the community and how it can help the initiative, stating that: "CHP does deliver if it is well designed". Abu-Ebid even stated that he led 1100 CHP certified schemes - which were run on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - where a certain criteria and standard had to be established, "before they qualified for any government incentives".

Abu-Ebid stated that a government report has said that: "buildings - that means homes, businesses and industry - consume about 49% of energy" and that, "in the next 40 years we need to get to the 80 per cent reduction in our carbon emissions". This concern links to the government's hesitance to help the industry unless it further helps itself, which is an aspect of the debate that Morrell contributed.

Gambi Chiang, Senior Manager of Special Projects at BSRIA, collaborated Abu-Ebid's views on the benefits of practical methods such as CHP and district heating by discussing the rewards of energy supply contracting and local renewables in communities. Chiang argued that: "the general public pay more attention to larger off-shore renewables", following with "if we want to ensure the security of supply, the more diverse the better".

"We are in a situation now where cities are going to be seen as the primary way of unlocking the green economy" - Peter Sharratt

Chiang supported her case that: "a community, district approach is much better" by stating that, "if we look around, we do have a lot of good small scale renewables. But why are we using so little?"

Peter Sharratt, Director of Sustainability and Climate Change for WSP took to the floor to demonstrate how to design a low carbon city. Sharratt said: "Clearly the very successful prototype of human habitation that we have in the form of urban development, is actually threatening our existence." Sharratt further argued that: "what we now have to do is not design buildings anymore but actually design regulatory systems, we have to design governments. Strategic design is going to be at the heart of this."

"We're building a legacy, we're designing for legacy" - Ian Guest

Sharratt exhibited a prospective answer to healing the bad habits of city living with the Masdar City project, where the entire design has been carefully carved around the concept of engineering a low carbon community. Sharratt described that the success of the city would be its creation of, "a circular economy", with closed loops - taking city design away from ending up with waste at the end of a linear invention. Sharratt also discussed the work by Sitra in Helsinki where they have taken a "bottom up approach" to looking at, "how do you actually create the DNA of a zero carbon society?"

Ian Guest, Group Director of Buro Happold, then demonstrated a project in the UK: the Olympic Village in London. Guest told how the design of the project incorporates biomass boilers, CHP and district heating which would cover the entirety of the park, supporting Abu-Ebid's and Chiang's views of the success of such methods when trying to plan, design, create and engineer low carbon communities.

The Briefing 2010 presentation slides can be freely downloaded below: