Retrofit for the Future

The latest NCE Future Cities report (- read it here) is out and the most important topic that it covers is without doubt building retrofit. More and more buildings are being upgraded, reducing cost and energy use – but take up is generally slow.


According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) buildings are responsible for 40% of global energy use and around a third of global CO2 emissions, but in high density cities this is much higher.  New York for example estimates that 75% of all emissions are generated in buildings and London closer to 80%. Against this backdrop cities are working towards a range of carbon reduction targets, the largest of which is set out in the Climate Change Act of 2008 and requires an 80% reduction in overall emissions by 2050 against 1990 values.

In response to this some global cities are taking a leading position and their actions are having an important effect worldwide. The world’s most famous office block for example, the Empire State Building is coming to the end of a $13.2m energy retrofit programme that is set to pay back the capital investment in just over three years. Two years on from the commencement of the EPC contract and the building is outperforming expectations by 5 per cent in the first year and 4 per cent in the second. Perhaps more importantly though it has also met its original goal of producing a replicable model having made all of its data openly available. As a result around 100 buildings in the US are thought to be using the methodology. For other cities it has had a more inspirational effect with the Right Honorable Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle telling NCE that this was the inspiration for its project to retrofit 1200 buildings with energy efficiency measures. To do this the city has created a unique funding model with private banks. So far 200 retrofit schemes are underway. The benefits have surpassed all expectations with a AUS$10bn boost to GDP and an additional 50,000 jobs created in construction, smart building, retrofitting, technical services and real estate . “We are having a mini boom in our city,” says Doyle. 

So what about the UK? Consultants and contractors tell NCE that to date retrofit work is mainly driven by large businesses and public buildings. “For me the green retrofit market has not moved as quickly as we thought it would,” says Paul Chandler executive vice president of Skanska UK. Skanska also features in the Future Cities report thanks to its leading position on green contracting.

There are many reasons for the slow take up on the commercial side not least a controversial decision by the Treasury in September 2011 to throw out proposals to make Display Energy Certificates (DECs), which are mandatory in public buildings, compulsory for the commercial sector too. Instead government is insisting that all building landlords have a minimum standard Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of F by 2018, but experts say this does not go far enough. 

Without any requirements to report actual consumption many landlords are lacking motivation to invest, particularly given the troubled times that have beset the property sector in the wake of the recession.  Energy costs are often low down in the hierarchy of spending requirements.

Despite these stumbling blocks there is some good work being done in the UK. “We often see energy upgrades being carried out as part of a wider retrofit programme,” says Dr Paul Toyne, director of sustainability at Balfour Beatty. He points to a number of recent UK retrofit schemes as being important examples of what can be achieved. At Blackfriars station in London for example Balfour Beatty have fitted 6000m2 of solar panels to the roof generating half of the stations energy requirements and reducing carbon emissions by 511t per year.

The full article appears in NCE Future Cities November 2013

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