The challenge that won’t go away

The construction and property sectors have seen some interesting government ideas for reducing the carbon emissions created from the built environment. Part L of the Building Regulations has its roots in Europe of course but it was perhaps one of the first significant moves to legislate for sustainable buildings. This was accompanied by Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs).

And more recently we saw the introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC); along with Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) to encourage the application of photovoltaic technologies. All of these were attempts to encourage, or even drive, designers, builders and operators of buildings to be more sustainable in their thinking and delivery.

We can’t criticise the government for trying. It has made some significant carbon reductions from its own building stock and continues to keep ambitious targets. But progress driven only by legislation and government tends to be slow, requiring input and consensus which takes time to gather.

But there is another, much more urgent driver to progress towards energy efficient and sustainable buildings, and that’s market forces. Rising energy prices and threatened shortages are grabbing the attention of building owners and business managers in a way that perhaps Part L of the Building Regulations never will.

Many energy experts believe the UK will face power shortages, perhaps in as short a time as two years from now, of the kind that we have to date not had to experience.  The chief executive of Ofgem warned earlier this year that Britain is ‘dangerously’ close to power shortages.  Relying on imports does not make good financial sense – in Japan, a country which relies on imports for its energy, the price of gas is already 60% higher than in Britain. The potential impact of such shortages on businesses here, from industrial sites to retail outlets, is enormous.

However hard it tries, government can’t push us towards energy (and carbon) efficient buildings as quickly as we need to get there. Yet hard financial facts can and are. Clients want to know that buildings will perform in energy terms as they were designed to; and that buildings as assets will keep their value in the long term.

Where EPCs and the CRC may edge us towards efficiency, increasing utility bills will certainly be an incentive to rapid adoption of efficient energy strategies. With energy costs already coming close to those of employing staff in some business sectors, getting a grip on energy is vital.  And the most cost effective way to tackle the energy challenge is to understand energy use in buildings, then manage and control it.

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