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BSRIA Briefing calls for retrofit consortiumDecember 2008

The BSRIA Briefing was supported by Trend, Building Services Journal and Electrical & Mechanical Contractor

The BSRIA Briefing 08 - achieving zero carbon presented the issues and potential strategies to tackle carbon reduction targets before putting four key propositions for delegates to vote on.

A clear message that came consistently from presentations, debates and delegate feedback was the need to reduce emissions from existing building stock and the role of retrofit.

Professor Michael Kelly, chief scientific advisor to the department for Communities and Local Government set the scene, "45% of all emissions come from existing buildings; 27% from homes and 18% from non-domestic buildings.we need a programme to tackle a million houses, because we'll only have a chance to do one or two makeovers of our existing stock on a significant scale between now and 2050".

As legislation drives improvement in new build, there appears to greater uncertainty about tackling existing buildings but a clear desire and need to do this.

Over 300 delegates from across the industry debated the cases and voted on the four propositions

The propositions

See charts for full results of the proposition voting (click on image to zoom).

Proposition 1: "This house believes that a retrofit consortium of public and private sector bodies should be set up, and given the role of driving the low carbon retrofit of existing buildings."

Almost two thirds of delegates agreed with this proposition.

Professor Kelly explained how a retrofit consortium would 'pull through' new materials or processes of installation, and new services that will be needed, on a scale large enough to make it economically viable. Kelly questioned "Where is the order for the first hundred thousand pieces going to come from? We need a retrofit consortium to get this going."

Proposition 2: "This house believes that the renewables obligation as currently formulated is too prescriptive and inflexible, and that low and zero carbon projects would be enabled by more imaginative use of Section 106 planning rules."

An overwhelming 80% of delegates agreed with this proposition.

Results of the proposition voting

This result was simply "not a surprise" for the panel of speakers, however, one group who voted against it stated "We said no, because if you relax the rules and legislation, people will take the easy option."

Patrick Bellew of engineering consultant firm, atelier ten, argued "No matter how hard we try, we get to a point on buildings where we spend more money than we need to per tonne of carbon saved, and we could do a lot better by spending it elsewhere.

"My proposal is to use the Section 106 planning process to offset this residual carbon. [Developers] could invest, say, £500,000 into a community fund that pays for a programme of solar panels right around the borough."

Proposition 3: "This house believes that the UK energy supply industry should be required by law to offer feed-in tariffs attractive to small-scale generators of renewable energy."

Almost two thirds of delegates agreed with this proposition.

Patrick Bellew commented that this was "logical and makes sense" and offered some 'innovative' advice, "my solution to all of this is if the banks have lost £5 trillion, find the guy who's got it all, then he has to pay the difference". Although slightly flippant, this comment was backed up by several delegates, including Don Leeper, former BSRIA Chairman and CIBSE President, "When we have real problems, money can be found to deal with them, like Iraq and financial systems, so politically we can find the money when the problem is serious enough".

Among the objections to the proposition, one delegate commented that they "Fundamentally believe that it won't work as it just heats up the grid and my company is paid to cool it down again, but if you think the generator somewhere is winding down because you are putting a little back into the grid, then you are wrong".

Proposition 4: "This house believes that the government should mandate the energy supply industry to enable demand-side energy management in 80% of all buildings by 2015."

Almost 70% of delegates agreed with this proposition.

Paul King, of the UK Green Building Council, explained that change needs to sweep through the energy supply industry, "We have an energy supply industry which is predicated upon selling as much power as possible to as many people as possible. But we need an energy industry that is predicated upon selling as little energy to as many people as possible. Government has to regulate that."

Among the detractors of the proposition was a comment that, "The principle is sound and should be done on certain buildings, but we don't think it should be done by the energy supply companies - [the energy suppliers] should concentrate on producing energy efficiently."

See charts for full results of the proposition voting (click on image to zoom).

Prior to the conference, BSRIA also asked for views on 'Achieving zero carbon', click to download a summary of the comments received.


A detailed report of the Briefing will appear in the next edition of Delta T, the magazine for the BSRIA Membership.