It’s just not cricket

In our regular MashUP tour around the world and various industry sectors to see what’s happening with sustainability and climate change mitigation, Leon Gettler looks this week at the UK and finds plenty of action.

10 July 2013 — There are lots of exciting things happening in Britain right now with green building and sustainable development.

Under British Government rules, local planning authorities are required to make sure new developments are energy efficient, and all new homes will be required to be zero carbon from 2016. The government is considering extending this to include all other buildings from 2019.

Then there is the London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which supports the UK’s burgeoning wind energy sector. The 175-turbine project is located in the Thames Estuary. It boasts 630MW of capacity. That makes it the largest offshore wind farm in the world.

Home-owners can take out a loan up to £10,000

Significantly, the conservative Cameron Government has endorsed London Array. This is important because it sends a signal to green energy investors that Number 10 Downing Street remains committed to driving clean energy investment and also neutralises any opposition to wind farming from more conservative sections of society.

The government has also given the Green Investment Bank an additional £800 million ($A1.317 million) on top of £3 billion it has already committed. It will be handed to the bank in 2015-16 as part of the Government’s settlement on capital budgets.

In January, the government announced a green loan scheme that allows householders to repay long-term loans via their electricity bills when they install up to 40 different energy saving technologies.

The scheme enables home-owners to take out a loan up to £10,000 ($A16,429) to make their house more energy-efficient. The government has offered more than £200 million to promote the deal. It’s also trained up 600 builders to install systems and it’s roped in 40 organisations, including household names like B&Q and British Gas, to offer the packages.

Building Magazine reports that the British government is looking at ways to increase demand for the scheme, which has been quite poor in the initial take-up due to confusing scheme design and non-competitive interest rates, although it has ruled out adding more incentives or cutting the scheme’s interest rates given Britain’s budgetary constraints.

The Cameron government claims it’s a critical part of their industrial strategy for construction, which identifies sustainability as one of five key areas for reform in the industry. It works around a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment by 50 per cent by 2025.

While it’s been widely criticised for not guaranteeing households will actually lower their energy bills, with some even saying it will make homes harder to sell, it’s an innovative scheme that other countries could look at.

England has also produced some great companies working in the sustainable building space. One of them is Hab Housing, which builds green homes made from Hempcrete, a relatively new material that’s made from the woody bit of the hemp plant for the walls.

The company’s web site explains what it is: “Hemcrete is brilliant. It’s grown locally, and keeps your house super warm in winter as it retains heat. And to make sure it doesn’t get too hot in summer, those funny chimneys at the top of each house aren’t chimneys at all but something called cowls, essentially air vents. You can open them up and heat is pulled up through the centre of the house via the staircase and out the top.”

Hempcrete is brilliant

Hab Housing director Kevin McCloud is great believer in self-building, which he says can create a more sustainable built environment. As he explains on the UK Green Building Council blog, it’s something the British industry is now looking at and the rewards from this will change the landscape.

“We’d see people sharing skills and saving money. We’d see neighbours working together on community self-build schemes and local construction economies thriving. And we’d certainly see more energy efficient buildings and a wider embracing of green technologies. What if each household in the UK had the option to build their own place, with support from the self-build industry and government? What if planning departments allocated land and provided co-ordinated planning and design support with design guides?

“What if the Homes and Communities Agency started to release affordable government-owned land for self-builders? What if finance and insurance were much easier to find? What if large-scale developers and housing associations could provide finished-slab, fully serviced sites for would-be self builders, as part of their larger schemes?”

There is also scope for building more sustainable cities. The consulting firm Arup was appointed by the Technology Strategy Board – the UK’s innovation agency – in 2013 to prepare the report to explore the common visions for a Future Cities Programme to create more sustainable cities.

The subsequent Arup report says cities of the future will have to make greater use of open data platforms and engagement with a wider range of partners. As part of the study, 30 UK cities were granted £50,000 each to develop an innovative scheme to dramatically improve their performance.

And there are signs of plenty of activity in cities around Britain.

The Great London Authority has some rules in place to create buildings to minimise carbon dioxide emissions. Major development proposals are required to include a detailed energy assessment to demonstrate how the targets for carbon dioxide emissions reduction are being met. It has also set aside funding for heating network infrastructure and energy supply plants, as well as fitting photovoltaic solar panels.

Then there’s City Hall in London, a green building that really stands out. It’s naturally ventilated, with windows that open in all office spaces. Heat generated by computers and lights is recycled. The deep-plan floors allow for the collection of heat at the building’s core, which can then be redirected to its periphery.

London’s City Hall

Electrical consumption is reduced by avoiding refrigeration and using cold ground water to aircondition the building. The water is extracted from the water table beneath London through two bore holes and used to cool the building and then used in toilets and for irrigation savings on mains water.

Solar panels have been installed on the roof of the building so that it can produce its own electricity.

Other local government authorities are also innovating.

In Peterborough, for example, the local authority is creating an online platform to help improve energy consumption. In Greater Manchester, authorities have been working together for many years to create a smarter city in the interests of greater efficiency.

Green roofs have also taken off in London with one study identifying them in places including Poultry, Cheapside, Queen Street Place, Bishopsgate, St Bartholomew’s Hospital in Smithfield, Cannon Place, Carter Lane, Guildhall, the Merrill Lynch Financial Centre, the Mint Hotel and the Museum of London.

There are also strict rules in other parts of United Kingdom. According to the Welsh government, for example, all residential development promoted by that government and sponsored bodies has to comply with a minimum code. Similarly, in all buildings linked to the Welsh Government, at least 10 per cent of the total value of materials used has to be recycled.

Sustainable building has also taken off in Scotland with Scottish Enterprise pointing to it as having unparalleled growth opportunities for Scottish companies. Low carbon building technology sales in Scotland are projected to reach £1.9 billion by 2020 and the sector could support up to 12,000 Scottish jobs in areas like insulation and smart meter technologies.

Estimates suggest that up to 14,000 Scottish businesses currently work in low carbon construction markets and export markets across the UK and globally.

There is a lot happening in the UK in sustainability and climate change and clearly, this is just the start.

Leon Gettler is a freelance business journalist, author and podcaster. He works for a range of publications and produces two podcasts for RMIT every week: Talking Business and Talking Technology. He has an acute interest in the environment, its impact on business and the response of businesses and governments.