Our consortium of social landlords is taking small steps towards a big solution: achieving greater carbon efficiency in our housing stock. Optimised Retrofit can set a path each home can follow, writes Andy Sutton
The UK urgently needs to improve the energy performance of its homes. The Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings argued in a report last year that to hit the UK government’s target of getting as many homes as possible to an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C by 2035 will require up to £65bn worth of energy efficiency upgrades.
Our optimised retrofit programme is designed to help catalyse that process.
The Welsh government has set specific targets, aiming to achieve EPC A for all homes by 2050, starting with bringing 300,000 homes owned by social landlords and privately owned homes in fuel poverty up to EPC A by 2030.
Optimised retrofit, supported by the Welsh government’s Innovative Housing Programme, will initially retrofit nearly 1,400 homes across Wales as part of the evidencing and refinement of a different, better and more thorough approach to decarbonising homes.
Our consortium is taking small steps towards the big solution. Those small steps will establish a road map to wider change and net-zero carbon emissions in our homes.
So, what’s the difference – why the fuss? Why have 26 social landlords, and a total of 68 partners, come together in a single consortium to deliver a new approach to decarbonising existing homes? The answer is because up to now, retrofit has not typically been done properly.
Previous retrofit programmes have been full of good intentions, but they were done without a proper analysis of the homes they focused upon or the goals they sought to achieve. Optimised retrofit is all about undertaking a comprehensive survey of every home to understand its energy performance.
For example, we are not generally going to be ripping out products and systems that still perform well and have a number of years left in their life span. To remove well performing kit is not efficient and actually works against a route towards net zero.
That route – what we are calling a pathway to zero – is what our optimised retrofit programme is about. It is about setting out a path for every home to follow. Along that planned journey – based on rigorous analysis of its energy performance – there will be a series of interventions that move it towards net zero.
That target, or destination might be achieved by 2030. It’s more likely that the 1,400 or so homes within our programme will become net zero in the early 2030s.
Why 2030 and not now? Another key difference in our consortium’s approach to retrofit and what’s gone before is where we see the target. It is not now, nor is it tomorrow. A target today is based on historic data. Hence as soon as it is achieved it is out of date – outmoded. Our pathway to zero is about looking forward. We want to hit what is in effect a moving target – so we are aiming to where the target will be in 2030.
To hit the target, we need a more sophisticated approach to our buildings that integrates smart energy management and storage, as well as generating and passing energy to the grid. Ideally, we should be regarding a building as part of the energy grid. Then we can factor in how much decarbonisation of the grid has occurred already and anticipate how the grid will continue to decarbonise and allow for this in the future design and retrofit of our buildings. This is an intrinsic part of the optimised retrofit programme – something no one has done before.
We aim to establish an intelligent metering platform in each of the 1,400 homes in Wales itemised by the consortium. Every home will be fitted with live energy and carbon metering and we aim to have readings every 15 minutes to allow us to build a full picture of energy use in a home. Such a process will provide an understanding that allows us to create the right pathway for every home. We believe this is unprecedented.
We are using existing technology in an innovative way. So, what we are doing is very focused on results, not driven by costs or specific products. Optimised retrofit is about doing the right thing because the climate crisis gives us no option and tenants and homeowners deserve better quality, lower-carbon lifestyles. It is about co-ordination of the best possible solutions based on a thorough understanding of the homes.
That’s why we are focusing on making smaller improvements (small steps first) in more homes to build up momentum. One big change, or a huge effort to get a smaller number of homes to as low an emission level as possible will not establish a pathway – it will be a model project, difficult to replicate, like so many well intentioned that have gone before.
Optimised retrofit means getting it right. Once we understand the energy performance of the homes, then we undertake an objective, independent survey to establish the optimum products and systems to achieve net zero. Only then will the landlords – registered social landlords or councils – put the work to tender and the retrofit installation begin. It all relies on proper monitoring and measurement of energy, co-ordination of the right solutions and a focus on long-term outcomes that deliver what’s right for everyone, as well as the planet.
Andy Sutton, co-founder, Sero
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