It’s not all about Brexit

Brexit, regulation, CIBSE, Hywel Davies, ICOM, EPBD, Part L, Clean Growth Strategy, nearly zero energy buildings, NZEBs
Dr Hywel Davies, CIBSE

We’re all waiting to discover what Brexit might mean for UK legislation on energy and emissions. But that shouldn’t distract us from home-grown regulation that will also introduce significant changes – and opportunities. Karen Fletcher reports on a presentation by CIBSE’s Dr Hywel Davies.

A ‘time of unprecedented change’ is how Dr Hywel Davies, CIBSE technical director, describes our current circumstances. Some might say that’s an understatement. Speaking at the ICOM Spring Conference in early May, Dr Davies was anticipating the effects of several major political and legislative changes on energy and emissions rules for building design, construction and operation.

While politicians tussle over how Brexit will work, the construction industry is waiting to understand exactly what it might mean for regulations such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and Part L of the Building Regulations. However, many of the clues to where our legislation is heading may lie closer to home than Brussels. With its own ambitious energy and carbon targets, the UK government has already made clear what sort of performance it requires from our future (and refurbished) buildings.

The UK has a number of homegrown obligations on energy and emissions. Not least of these is the Climate Change Act (CCA) which commits us to an 80% cut in carbon emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2050. Whatever Brexit leads to, these are UK targets which will remain in place. We have been successful in meeting interim targets, but the next set of emissions cuts will be harder to achieve.

With this in mind, in October 2017, government launched a Clean Growth Strategy which is intended to meet the next tranches of the CCA targets covering the periods 2023 – 2027 and 2028 – 2032. The Clean Growth Strategy has 102 policies and measures, including :

• 51 relating to buildings and industry

• 17 relating to industry and commercial buildings

• 17 relating to improving our homes

Another UK-based influence on energy use in buildings is Part L of the Building Regulations, of course. This was already due for a five-year refresh, but it also now falls under the wider regulatory analysis created by the Hackitt review.

In his presentation, Dr Davies highlighted that the issue of ‘cost optimal’ solutions in Part L would be one of the items under the microscope. The update to Part L (beyond any other measures introduced as a result of the Hackitt review) is partly intended to reflect changing energy prices, which in turn affects what low-energy solutions might be considered cost-optimal.

Energy and carbon regulations for buildings - a watch-list

1. CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC) (until 2019)

2. Climate Change Agreements (CCAs) & Climate Change Levy (CCL)

3. Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), Display Energy Certificates (DECs) & Air Conditioning inspections

4. Building Regulations (Part L, ADL2A, ADL2B)

5. Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (for rented buildings)

6. F-Gas Regulation & related requirements

7. Smart Meters

8. Metering and Billing Regulations

9. Enhanced Capital Allowances (ECAs)

10. EU minimum energy performance standards and labelling (ErP)

11. Mandatory Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reporting

12. Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS)

The next iteration of Part L must also account for the UK target of achieving nearly zero energy buildings (NZEBs) – something we are targeted to achieve by 2021. This will be of great importance to the building services sector, given that HVAC and other services use such a high proportion of energy within nondomestic buildings.

While Brexit grabs the headlines, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s already coming down the pipeline for the construction industry – whether we’re in Europe or out of it. As these examples show, there will be no shirking the requirements for energy efficiency and lower emissions.

However, Dr Davies made an important point about EU legislation on energy and emissions. And that is that without it, we face an even bigger challenge in meeting those CCA targets. Ridding ourselves of EU-led measures such as EPCs, or heat metering for example, would be more of a hindrance than a help.

A review by the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) praised the ambition of the UK’s Clean Growth Strategy, but pointed to some gaps in the fourth and fifth carbon budgets as well as some risks of under-delivery. And it is here that EU legislation has proved so important. These potential gaps would be much wider without rules, schemes and programmes that have their roots in Europe.

As Dr Davies commented: “EU led measures have contributed to UK emissions reductions. Why would we want to change EU-based legislation on energy efficiency and emissions when it’s helping us achieve a national objective?”

For those who are Brexitwatching (which is most of us), these UK-based objectives and targets give a good indicator of what might happen to legislation that originated in Europe. Take EPCs, for example. As Dr Davies pointed out, Energy Performance Certificates came out of the EU, but they are now embedded in the UK’s Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES). Given that MEES are at the front line of reducing energy in buildings, it seems unlikely that we’ll be saying goodbye to EPCs.

One big EU-based change is the next update to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). This will be in force from December 2019, so there is some question about how far the UK might be affected by updates. This is something Dr Davies referred to as a ‘known unknown’.

Interestingly, proposed changes to the EPBD embrace issues that are increasingly important here in the UK.

For example, renovation and refurbishment for better energy performance is high on the EU agenda. And there is also an increased focus on monitoring air quality in buildings, reflecting a greater concern about the health effects of pollution levels, particularly in cities. Again, this is something that the UK government is sensitive about, given recent reports on the dangers of poor air quality in London and other cities.

While Brexit is sure to have an impact on building-related legislation, it’s important not to be so caught up in that massive event that we forget local influences on building design, which are showing clearly that energy and emissions are top of the national agenda.

Building services are central to all of these issues, so the direction towards better building performance and regulation of that are opportunities to be embraced by our sector, which can take the lead on helping to deliver the efficient buildings of the future.

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