The ifs and buts of climate change

Is it my imagination, or has more been said by politicians and written in the Press about climate change and global warming than usual during the past month? Perhaps Modern Building Services started the ball rolling in the last issue when we suggested that since most experts now agree that climate change is inevitable, there is probably little point putting effort into designing services to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. What polarised views have been expressed since now and then! For the building services industry, one reader wrote, ‘The challenge for modern building-services engineers is massive, bigger than ever — and it has always been huge. We must design for adaptation to climate change and for mitigation.’ An economic commentator with a major national newspaper believes that even meeting the ambitious target of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 60% from current levels by about 2050 will have no real effect on global greenhouse gases, pointing out that man-made emissions are under 5% of total emissions. The implication was that aiming to reduce carbon emissions is not worth the effort and is against the interests of Britain’s international competitiveness. No less a person than the president of the Royal Society, Lord May, is concerned that the rate of the development of renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures may not be adequate to meet that target. He argues that more nuclear power stations are needed to avoid the danger of growing dependence on fossil fuels and their associated carbon-dioxide emissions. It would be truly wonderful if building-services engineers were allowed to exercise their skills and imagination to meet the twin challenges of providing comfort conditions with major reductions in energy consumption. Unfortunately, that the task is probably as uphill as that of reducing energy consumption since the energy crisis of the early 1970s. To reduce energy bills, most users looked simply at reducing energy costs by tariff manipulation. To deliver buildings with energy consumption that is lower than the norm requires an enlightened client. The problem is not a lack of knowledge in the building-services sector of how to design services to make a major dent on a building’s emissions of greenhouse gases but a customer base that will not accept those solutions. As the feature on space heating in this issue makes abundantly clear, technology exists today that can meet the heating requirements of buildings with 50 to 60% lower emissions than even a condensing boiler (article starting on page 13). That feature also includes case studies of heat-pump technology being used in buildings today. As CIBSE’s immediate past-president Professor Terry Wyatt told a major conference in the Spring, the case for renewable heating is stronger than that for renewable electricity because the demand for it is so much greater.

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