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Retrofit Schemes - Green Energy

Essay by   •  June 4, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,701 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,548 Views

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Retrofit Schemes - Green Energy

Executive Summary

Targets on cutting carbon emissions are getting ever more serious and ever harder to meet. All new homes should be zero carbon by 2016 while existing stock emissions need to be cut by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Social housing providers are expected to lead the way.

While a daunting task, there has never been a greater time to look at the benefits of 'retrofit' technology, which not only cuts emissions, but also has the potential to bring in significant revenues at a time when budgets are being stretched to the limit.

Recent breakthroughs and reductions in the cost of various technologies has made investment more feasible while further advances and economies of scale means the cost continues to fall.

There is a whole range of policies and funding innovations (though it is yet to be confirmed which funding streams and projects the new coalition government will continue with) while specialist companies exist who can help with the planning, installation and maintenance of retrofit systems.

Green issues have rapidly come to be a top government priority, and with ever tougher European and global targets, the treatment of existing housing stock is essential if the UK is to meet them. As a result, there is a strong argument that greater funding is made available and key players in the sector are working with financial institutions, builders, utility companies, manufacturers, suppliers, RSLs as well as the government to outline a plan of action for upgrading the UK's housing stock. This will give certainty to those businesses investing in low carbon technology for homes.

In addition to hitting targets, this work will benefit the UK economy by creating new jobs and reducing levels of fuel poverty. Both can create stimulus within the local community as no single company can retrofit all the properties. This will create both skilled and unskilled labour and entrepreneurship while also bringing long term prospects through service and maintenance.

Most relevant in terms of benefit to the housing provider is the opportunites offered by Feed In Tariffs, known as FIT. Legislation passed means that the energy companies have to purchase the excess power produced by green methods. This means that an RSL can become a small power company with a guaranteed market, meaning the cost of the installation can be offset and in the future has the potential to make substantial returns, more now than ever with the coming demise of North Sea oil and gas reserves.

While the investment cost of retrofit has the potential to be substantial, and while the continued falls in the cost of the technology makes it hard to know at which point to join, it is still a good time to commence with retrofit projects. The funding is mostly in place, legislation allow the excess to be sold, research shows the majority of the population supports green energy schemes. It is better to lead from the front now, learn, and innovate, than to play catch up later on.

Improvements and increased efficiencies have been a focus of housing providers for decades. As green issues have steadily made their way up the political agenda, with all the issues surrounding the environment and fuel poverty, never has the treatment of existing properties been more crucial. Fit for the Future: the Green Homes Retrofit Manual was published in June 2008 by the Housing Corporation providing information for social landlords to improve the environmental performance of their existing housing stock.

The new coalition government has committed to making all new homes zero carbon from 2016. Many commentators are concerned about this focus on new-build, which accounts for just 1% of all stock. Grant Shapps believes that treating existing stock is 'do-able' and that most would only cost £1500 to retrofit, in direct contrast to general industry figures, which put the cost at around £6500 to cut emissions by 30% (EcoHomes XB).

Gentoo is a leading sustainable housing association, who are experimenting with retrofit. They wanted to see if they could retrofit environmental improvements for a maximum of £10,000 per property. The results showed only 40 out of 1,500 homes could be fully retrofitted following the 'Decent Homes Plus' scheme. This included solar thermal panels, A-rated boilers, energy efficient showers, and double-glazing.

They found that insufficient sunlight and use of hot water meant the installation of solar panels could not be justified. In many other cases, installation was not possible without affecting the tenants or doing major building work. Basic retrofitting was, however, possible, such as eco showers, new heating systems, and double-glazing. Following their report, John Doggart, chair of the Sustainable Energy Academy said 'I suspect they need to be more imaginative about the solutions that they find'.

Notting Hill Housing Association was imaginative with their 'Low Carbon Refurbishment Initiative', which looked beyond meeting the immediate goal of the decent homes standard. The scheme focused on energy saving on multi-tenure developments, namely Victorian and Edwardian houses, which are generally hard to treat but account for around 7 million of the UK housing stock. Materials and components were sourced that improved the overall thermal performance of the building, lowered fuel costs, cut carbon emissions and added to the overall sustainability credentials.

Learning from this work is vital as more than a quarter of the UK carbon emissions come from housing. In order to meet government targets to reduce emissions, RSLs need to modify their stock.

Wherry Housing Association is another RSL exploring retrofitting through their scheme, 'Greening the Box' where a hard to treat 1930s home was fitted with low-tech practical eco solutions. A 'whole house' approach looked at all the buildings components and how the environment and occupants interacted with them. Anything that improved performance was used and solar heating, double-glazing, super insulation, specialized ventilation and a rainwater tank were installed. The finished property had better energy performance than most standard homes, proving that zero carbon standards could be met without rebuilding. However, the work cost £48,000, which, while cheaper than new-build, still represented a huge investment. A three-year monitoring programme will report savings compared to a 'normal' home.

Some argue that these large capital investments are of little benefit to the RSL as retrofitting

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