Commercial property sector's 'blind spot' may pose threat to sustainable cities
Release Date 06 February 2014
Emission targets are under threat from the UK commercial property sector's failure to make existing buildings more energy efficient, a study by the University of Reading has found.
Professor Tim Dixon's research shows that the sector does not take a city scale view of retrofitting, the process of upgrading buildings to make them more energy efficient. Professor Dixon found the sector has been slow to engage with other stakeholders in city-wide retrofit programmes and that changes, including a restructuring of the Green Deal and more consistent retrofit assessments, are needed.
Research suggests cities may be responsible for up to 70% of global carbon emissions and 75% of global energy consumption. By 2050 it is estimated that 70% of the world's population could live in cities. It is therefore vital that city buildings are able to cope with the expected effects of climate change.
The research, which forms part of the EPSRC Retrofit 2050 programme, summarises the key challenges to retrofitting at city scale in the sector and sets out insights for the future. Professor Dixon and his team interviewed nearly 40 key players from the sector and concludes major changes to policy and practice are needed, including:
- The introduction of mandatory Display Energy Certificates (DECs) for the sector
- A restructuring of the Green Deal and increased support from the UK Green Investment Bank at the city level
- Better "performance in use' data;
- Clear consistency in commercial retrofit assessments standards such as BREEAM and Ska Rating.
Professor Tim Dixon, from the University's School of Construction Management and Engineering, said: "Commercial property produces 10% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and consumes 7% of UK energy. It is therefore surprising that UK business is overlooking a potential cost-saving of £1.6b through under-investment in energy efficiency, with the UK's commercial retrofit market potential estimated at £9.7b.
"Cities such as Leeds, Glasgow, London and Manchester are attempting to engage with the commercial sector around the retrofit agenda through such projects as district heating plans and smart grids. However our research shows that the UK commercial property sector is ‘city-blind' to retrofit opportunities and this is increasing the risk of failing to meet our emissions targets. Despite a number of examples of light touch retrofit, such as the installation of LED lighting and improved building management systems, the rate of retrofit remains slow.
"The sector still has much to do in order to connect with the wider community in cities if we are to make commercial property retrofit work at scale. Stronger and more collaborative partnerships at city level, especially based around decentralised energy schemes, are needed."
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The research is part of the Urban Foresight Laboratory work package, which is part of the wider EPSRC Retrofit 2050 programme of work (www.retrofit2050.org.uk).
The report can be accessed at:http://www.retrofit2050.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/citywidecityblind.pdf
The research was led by Professor Tim Dixon (Principal Investigator and Work Package Leader) at University of Reading, who is the main author of the report. The research was carried out with input from Oxford Brookes University.