The Committee on Climate Change published their 6th carbon budget yesterday. These 5-year budgets set out a blueprint for how the UK is to transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050 at the latest.
In order to meet the UK’s climate commitments, the committee recommend a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035. This is steeper than previous published trajectories, effectively bringing forward the UK’s previous target by nearly 15 years.
At Envision, like so many other businesses in our sector, we are at the front line of this challenge. Over the coming years, low carbon investment must scale up to £50 billion each year to deliver Net Zero, supporting the UK’s economic recovery over the next decade in a post COVID-19 world.
Whilst the 6th budget covers all sectors of the economy, at Envision we are paying closest attention to the outlook for buildings and construction. The sector recommendations provide a barometer for how future policy and practice may come forward.
For Buildings, key recommendations arising from the report include:
Deliver on the Government’s energy efficiency plans to upgrade all buildings to EPC C over the next 10-15 years. In England alone, over 60% of homes have EPCs D rated or lower (12 million homes). Government started a process earlier in the year through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) to deliver £50M in grant funding and a staggering £1 Billion in the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS), to decarbonise heat from public sector buildings. Envision has been supporting local authorities access this grant funding of these schemes. Now in the 5th round of applications, the PSDS is already oversubscribed. Massive capital investment is therefore being deployed in the public sector in 2021, to help support 30,000 new jobs.
Scale up the market for heat pumps as a critical technology for decarbonising space heating, while maintaining quality – The Committee predicts that by 2035, gas boilers will be phased out of residential homes. During this same period the carbon intensity of the UKs electricity supply sector should have been all but eliminated, making efficient electric systems the solution of choice. We are already seeing new directives to eliminate gas from new homes in the short term, but the deployment of heat pump technology to all homes over the next 15 years presents huge challenges of scale.
Expand the rollout of low-carbon heat networks in heat dense areas like cities, using anchor loads such as hospitals and schools. These principles have been long established, and various cities including London are taking the lead to deploy district heating at scale. However conventionally such systems are driven by gas led solutions, and many existing networks are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for delivering high grade heat. The trajectories require that by the mid-2020s, these networks move away from fossil fuels to alternative forms, including waste heat from anchor heat loads.
Prepare for a potential role for hydrogen in heat through a set of trials building on the current innovation programme. Surprisingly the opportunity hydrogen could play to decarbonise heat is only a peripheral strategy, yet the potential for large scale deployment at low impact is surely significant.
For Construction, the deployment of greater energy efficiency and material substitutions will be required to reduce emissions by 12 MtCO2e per year by 2035. key recommendations of the committee include:
Improvements in resource and energy efficiency – The manufacture of construction products is highly energy intensive. Improvements in the way materials are produced is expected to lead to the emissions reductions in the early 2020s, with contributions from electrification, biofuel use and material substitution. Fuel-switching and CCS deployment (Carbon Capture and Storage) are predicted to scale up from 2025 as infrastructures, starting near industrial clusters come forward. Earlier this year Envision supported EDF Energy with the Development Consent Order Application for Sizewell C in Suffolk. Options for creating a low carbon cluster, aligned to alternative technologies are being explored with businesses and local communities around the site. Similar plans are in place to develop low carbon clusters across the UK, match making innovative technologies with end users.
Circular principles – Using less for longer plays through the Committee’s recommendations. Design optimisation to reduce material inputs, increased recycling and reuse, and increasing longevity and utilisation will play a key role in decarbonising construction practices and the manufacture of goods needed in construction. Envision has been working with a wide range of clients to apply these practices in simple and practical ways – This includes life cycle assessment to optimise material choices, and pre demolition and refurbishment audits to refine construction strategies on individual building projects. As we move through the 2020s, it will be important to close the gap between the assessment of opportunities and the delivery of real-world outcomes. Refinements in policy and standardisation of practice will help to drive this.
There is clear optimism in the tone of the 6th carbon budget. The committee have identified important steps and broad timescales for how decarbonisation pathways can come forward. From the latest budget we can expect a raft of new policy frameworks, regulations and fiscal stimulus which will drive change. There are clearly huge opportunities within this sector to make a difference. Join the challenge!