Developing a roadmap for a zero-emissions London

Elementa Consulting, London Plan, zero emissions
A dramatic shift in the way we design, construct, refurbish and operate our buildings — Clara Bagenal George and Ed Garrod.

When over a hundred stakeholders got together to discuss the need for a radical rethink of London’s climate-change policy for buildings, the ideas flowed thick and fast — as Clara Bagenal George and Ed Garrod of Elementa Consulting report.

Data-driven policy, performance metrics and technology neutrality should be the foundation of London’s future Climate Change Policy for buildings, concludes an influential cross-sector initiative. Greenhouse-gas emissions from London’s buildings need to be rapidly reduced to meet our climate-change targets. This will require a dramatic shift in the way we design, construct, refurbish and operate our buildings.

London’s climate-change policy for buildings was once seen as world leading, but after over a decade of refinement now requires a radical rethink. To that end, Elementa Consulting recently brought together over a hundred stakeholders to participate in a workshop at the Building Centre in London.

Attendees included developers, engineers, housing associations, architects, planners, academics, sustainability professionals, contractors and facilities managers. They were joined by representatives from the GLA and London Boroughs.

Their task was to develop ideas and build consensus around recommendations for two key policies — the London Plan and the London Environment Strategy.

The workshop was facilitated by Dave Ramslie from Elementa Consulting’s Vancouver office. An expert in energy policy, Dave is a leading figure in the development of stretch codes and zero-energy building policies for cities across North America. Working at 10 tables, each focused on a specific theme, participants developed ideas and recommendations that could influence London’s Climate Change policy. Having identified their priorities they presented to the entire room culminating in a ‘dotmocracy’ exercise where the most popular ideas were revealed.

Four key policy priorities emerged.

• Energy use disclosure

• Better performance metrics

• Decarbonising energy and heating

• Delivery mechanisms

— as elaborated below.

Energy use disclosure: Driving down energy consumption is only possible with access to credible performance data. Mandatory in-use energy disclosure for all non-domestic buildings, multi-family housing and district-heating schemes was a seen as the key priority.

There was broad consensus that this data should be publicly accessible through an online platform that would enable benchmarking of performance across London’s building stock. Reconciling anticipated energy savings in design against real performance in-use it would provide an opportunity to narrow the gap between predictions of building performance and how they perform in operation.

Better performance metrics: Absolute performance metrics are a more effective way to influence design and specification of new buildings than the existing Building Regulations. With grid carbon intensity no longer a stable measure, we need to establish outcome-based metrics — becoming widely adopted globally — for building envelope performance and overall energy use intensity measured in kWh/m2/year.

Decarbonising energy and heating: As our electricity grid becomes dominated by intermittent renewable energy sources, the need to manage and reduce peak energy demands becomes more important. Decentralised energy-storage capacity (both electric and thermal) and demand response ‘peak-shaving measures’ should be encouraged and incentivised by London policy. This will enable London’s buildings to harness opportunities presented by real-time variable energy pricing.

Heating and domestic hot water can be generated locally, per dwelling, or generated by a district heating system. Careful consideration should be given to which option will deliver the greatest reduction in carbon emissions over the long term, taking into account future scenarios for grid carbon intensity. To better inform consumers, community heating schemes should provide transparent billing which should be disclosed when buildings connected to the scheme are leased or sold.

Additionally, all developments and district-heating schemes that depend on fossil-fuel combustion must establish a zero-emissions transition plan, ensuring that they can be adapted to achieve zero emissions goals in the future without the need for fundamental redesign.

Elementa Consulting, London Plan, zero emissions
Developing ideas and recommendations that could influence London’s Climate Change policy.

Delivery mechanisms: The workshop dot vote suggested that policy should be ‘technology neutral’, supporting innovation by prescribing outcomes and not the means by which they are achieved. The existing ‘energy hierarchy’ would be reconsidered.

Incentives should be provided, based on operational performance data, as a method to encourage deep retrofit for existing buildings as well as high-performing new buildings. Suggestions included reduced business rates or council tax, rent reviews/rent caps and removing VAT on any major refurbishment initiatives.

The net-zero-energy skills base needs to increase across the industry, and ongoing user education needs to be encouraged. Clients should demand more — with developers specifying in-use energy performance targets, supported by better metering and monitoring in operation.

A series of related priorities were identified.

• Embodied impacts of construction

• Overheating

• Stakeholder identification

• Strength in numbers — announcing the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI)

As buildings become more energy efficient, embodied carbon becomes increasingly important as it represents a greater proportion of the total lifecycle carbon emissions of a development. A policy framework to support reducing embodied carbon impacts needs to be considered.

Overheating risk is a growing problem, particularly within new residential buildings. There needs to be a clear policy direction with a requirement for developments to comply with specific overheating criteria, with modelling that includes future weather file analysis. Internal temperature monitoring should be encouraged, with league tables showcasing developments that perform well. A resiliency metric to assess thermal stability of developments during power-cuts could be considered.

Stakeholder Identification could be achieved with a community group registry to enable already established groups to engage early in the design process and establish opportunities for longer term ownership should be encouraged.

Finally, to realise the benefit of strength in numbers, industry collaboration is essential — and the workshop demonstrated the level of interest and willingness across the buildings sector to contribute time and expertise to policy development.

Building on this momentum the priorities that emerged in the workshop will now form the basis for establishing working groups. These will be tasked with developing robust policy recommendations and an implementation plan supported by an evidence base. They will operate under a newly created taskforce — LETI, the London Energy Transformation Initiative..

For more information on participating organisations and further details of workshop recommendations and outcomes see the workshop summary report ‘Getting to zero’ published on

Clara Bagenal George is an environmental design engineer with Elementa Consulting, and Ed Garrod is a principal.

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