Climate change is arguably the biggest challenge facing the modern world. It is an issue that affects everyone in this and future generations and requires immediate and significant action to reduce the impact. According to the United Nations, one of the key ways to slow global warming is by reducing emissions; which is why the decarbonisation of buildings is crucial.
The built environment is responsible for around 30% of all UK emissions, so measures taken now to reduce the use of fossil fuels and improve energy efficiency will bring benefits long into the future.
The greenhouse effect
We know that our planet is getting hotter, with increasing evidence of extreme weather, rising sea levels and shrinking polar ice. Scientists recognise that this climate change is triggered by higher levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.
The term refers to the greenhouse effect these gases create by trapping energy from the sun and warming the Earth’s surface and the air above it. Water vapour, methane and nitrous oxide are all GHGs, along with industrial fluorinated gases (including HFCs) which are present in relatively small concentrations but are still very potent.
However, it is carbon dioxide (CO₂) which poses the biggest threat. Although CO₂ is produced and released through natural processes, including volcanic eruptions and the breathing of humans and animals, activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and widespread deforestation have seen atmospheric concentrations increase by almost 50% since the Industrial Revolution.
This makes CO₂ the main contributor to climate change and underlines why cutting emissions and carbon footprints, and looking for low-carbon alternatives, are so important for the decarbonisation of buildings.
What is net zero?
Net zero is how we measure our efforts to address climate change by reducing global warming. It is the balance between the amount of GHG produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We would reach net zero when the amount added is no more than the amount taken away.
The UK’s Net Zero Strategy sets out policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the economy, using a combination of emission reduction and emission removal, to meet the net zero targets of 2050 laid down in the Climate Change Act of 2008. This commits the government by law to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels.
Buildings for the future
According to the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, there are around 30 million buildings in the UK, which are responsible for approximately 30% of the UK’s emissions. Most of these are domestic homes but the figure also covers approximately 1.9 million commercial and public sector buildings, including offices, hospitals, shops and warehouses. Whatever the sector, most currently rely on fossil fuels such as gas and oil for space heating and hot water production.
The strategy recognises that to achieve net zero, virtually all heat in buildings will need to be decarbonised. This means there is growing pressure to change the way we use energy, reducing carbon emissions through energy efficiency measures such as improved insulation and advanced controls, together with renewable technologies. With gas boilers already scheduled to be outlawed in new builds by 2025, the strategy also aims to phase out all installations by 2035.
Making a difference
The forthcoming implementation of the Future Homes Standard and Future Buildings Standard aims to ensure domestic and non-domestic new-builds from 2025 will be future-proofed with low carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency.
Alongside much-publicised ambitions to see 600,000 heat pumps installed every year by 2028, now supported by the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, the government has introduced further measures to help meet 2050 net zero targets by improving the efficiency of existing building stock and new builds.
For example, from April 2023, it will be unlawful to let out a commercial property with an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating lower than E. For the domestic sector, the government wants homes in England and Wales to reach a minimum EPC level of C by 2025 for private rentals and 2035 for all other homes.
Further information is available in two free technical guides from the Building Controls Industry Association (BCIA). The first covers building assessment schemes, including BREEAM, LEED, NABERS, RESET, WELL Being Standard and WiredScore, while the second is an overview of UK and European regulations for non-domestic buildings.
The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme provides grants for public sector bodies to fund heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency measures. It was introduced in 2020 and aims to support the reduction of emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037, compared to a 2017 baseline. Phase 3 will provide £1.425 billion of grant funding over the 22/23 and 24/25 financial years, in addition to over £1.1 billion worth of projects from previous phases with a value of 908,000 tonnes of CO2 savings.
How we can help to decarbonise your building
Batchelor Air Conditioning & Refrigeration has the experience and expertise to help you on the next step of your journey. Our team can help if you need to replace outdated HVAC equipment with the latest technology or advise how to make the most of your existing setup through a professional maintenance plan.
We supply tailor-made solutions using leading manufacturers, covering commercial heat pumps, heat recovery ventilation and high-efficiency air conditioning systems for any application. And as an accredited Crown Commercial Service Supplier, we are as comfortable delivering projects for schools, hospitals and other public buildings as we are in the private sector.