What you need to know about ‘Scaling up Retrofit 2050’

The new whitepaper published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and Nottingham Trent University calls for a far-reaching program of ‘deep retrofit’ to drastically improve the performance of the UK’s housing stock.

Pete Stemp - Senior Copywriter

Peter Stemp13.11.2018

‘Scaling Up Retrofit 2050’ presents the case for taking a whole house approach and investing more significantly to bring the energy efficiency in line with the standards needed to the meet the 2008 Climate Change Act. It also highlights barriers to achieving this, provides recommendations and presents case studies of existing retrofit initiatives.

Why do we need to scale up retrofit?

The Climate Change Act of 2008 sets a legally binding target for the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of the 1990 baseline by 2050. UK homes account for about 30% of total energy use and around 20% of UK’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. To achieve the targets, the energy demand from residential properties must be reduced. However, the whitepaper also highlights the fact that 80% of the homes we will be living in by 2050 have already been built, meaning it is not enough to only build new homes to a high energy efficiency standard.

Why deep retrofit is needed?

Deep retrofit is a concept that has received increased attention over recent years as the most efficient and cost effective way of improving the performance of existing homes. The core of the concept is that the energy efficiency of a property can be brought in line with the 2050 standards in a single step rather than a series of incremental improvements over a number of years. Financially, this is better in the long term as the immediate reduction in energy costs helps off-set the investment, and economies are achieved by completing all the work at the same time.

The document also illustrates the potential benefits beyond reduced energy demand and lowered carbon emissions. It is estimated that the NHS spends £1.4 billion per year treating conditions arising from poor quality housing with at least £145 million of this attributed to cold homes.

Barriers and recommendations

Despite the potential benefits, there are a number of factors that may be preventing the implementation of such an initiative. The primary among these are:
• High costs – the price per retrofit is still high.
• Lack of capability to deliver – there are not sufficient skills within the supply chain.
• Lack of finance – money is not available to pay for the retrofit.
• Lack of user demand – energy efficiency upgrades are not yet an attractive proposition for owners or occupiers.
• Lack of clear government policy and direction.

To address these barriers the whitepaper makes four overall recommendations, each with steps to help achieve it.

1) Establish a long-term plan
This includes the need for a clear policy objective that is sustained in the long term and supported at every level of government and by planning laws. One key recommendation is to initially focus on social housing where, over the last 20 years, properties have been on average more energy efficient than private rented or owner-occupied homes.

2) Reduce costs and build supply chain capacity
To achieve this, the authors suggest developing pilot projects to both demonstrate the benefits and improve build techniques. It is also suggested that a centre of excellence is established and that evidence of performance is collected and shared.

3) Engage with consumers
It suggests that research should be carried out to identify how to communicate the benefits to homeowners most effectively and overcome any concerns that they might have.

4) Encourage investment
This includes recommendations to aggregate projects together to attract investment and lower the costs. It also suggests that local authorities should be given greater flexibility to borrow to finance the schemes and be supported in long term planning.

Achieving the carbon emission targets set out by the climate change act is going to require a significant change to the way we approach new development, however as the vast majority of the 2050 housing stock has already been built retrofit is arguably more important. The whitepaper aims to provide a road map for delivering the kind of initiatives that are required.

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