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The London Environment Strategy: Not enough and too much?

Before Christmas, I attended a consultation on the London Environment Strategy (LES), giving me a chance to marshal my thoughts on climate change and energy. Though focused primarily on London, the consultation addresses many issues other cities are facing and thus also exceptionally relevant nationally.


Regarding energy efficiency, there are some stable commitments to drive energy efficiency: by increasing retrofitting measures and smarter tariffs. Albeit on a small scale, the RE:NEW and RE:FIT scheme are achieving great things. There is also a plan to ask national government for increased power, possibly with an opportunity around using EPC ratings to drive standards which are already working in the commercial sector (providing EPCs are high quality).

There is acknowledgement that the prior requirement for combined heat and power (CHP) had negative impacts on air quality, (CHP also increase CO2 emissions), and recognises that heat pumps will be part of the solution. Despite this, there is still a strong focus on heat networks. Though instinctively suitable, there is still a lack of clarity on what will provide the heat; a heat network is not a heating system but distribution. CHP or gas boilers wouldn’t be considered as you just add losses. Waste heat is often suggested (such as the tube), but that will mean using heat pumps to upgrade the waste heat. On that basis, the LES should make it clear that all new developments should use heat pumps, leaving developers to work out the best way in which they should be used. I fear the desire for a grand policy will outweigh the opportunity to let the market deliver the best solution.

The strategy continues the commitment to increase rooftop solar to 2GW by 2050. If it is deployed on buildings so the occupant directly benefits from reduced bills, that would be fine, however if communal rooftop systems are used, occupants won’t always benefit. We should focus on deploying solar outside London where it is much cheaper to deliver and where it is much more efficient. On new developments, rooftop space is valuable and often better to be used as green or social space. (Solar thermal does have to be local and can improve air quality.)

It is reassuring to know there is a commitment to support the transition to a “smart” energy system in terms of the smart meter roll-out and time of use tariffs. Certainly an area where London could take a lead to reduce energy bills and costs of utilities on new developments.

On adapting to climate change, fundamentally I think this comes down to reduced (but heavier) rainfall, warmer and more extreme temperatures. Both WSP’s work and CIBSE’s methodology for modelling overheating indicates: if climate change projections prove correct, then almost all homes will need cooling irrespective of passive measures to reduce it. It is worrying that there is currently no acknowledgement of this.

Administratively, there is a commitment to set up a London Energy Supplier in partnership with an existing provider to reduce fuel poverty. I, and many of the people I’ve met are sceptical of this; unclear on how it will deliver cheaper energy than the market of existing providers, whose percent of profits are very small. We do now have a genuinely competitive energy market and the issue centres more around customer awareness and engagement.

The bigger picture is to make London a zero carbon city by 2050. A great prospect in thought, but with such a long term goal, there risks. Imagine looking back 32 years to 1986 and trying to plan for today; would we have been able to plan for energy storage, heat pumps, solar, wind and electric vehicles? We should focus on intermediate goals with less room for error, such as energy efficiency, the smart energy revolution (discussed in strategy) and all-electric buildings.

Overall there are very valid points in the report around reducing fuel poverty, energy efficiency and the transition to a smarter energy future. However, there are some real opportunities to recognise the bigger picture on the future of energy that are being missed.

This blog was written by Barny Evans, Technical Director