Non-domestic buildings account for 17% of our energy consumption and 12% of greenhouse gas emissions. If the Government is to get anywhere near its ambitious target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, it is going to have to get tough on energy reduction in the non-domestic sector. Indeed, hitting the UK’s 2050 carbon-reduction target is likely to require eliminating nearly all emissions from heating buildings and a substantial proportion from heating for industrial processes.
While there is significant potential for savings from heating, cooling and energy efficiency within the different non-domestic sectors (public, commercial and industrial), accessing it has a number of challenges because of the diverse nature of energy usage in those buildings. The Government admits that its evidence base is not complete and needs to consider and test a number of policies which can deliver the most effective savings.
The Government has been consulting the building industry to develop the evidence required to initiate a plan of action for the sector. The consultation,
‘The future of heat: non-domestic buildings’, aims to ascertain how the government can:
Keep energy bills as low as possible
Continue to ensure the UK has a secure and resilient energy system
Remain at the leading edge of science, research and innovation
Reduce carbon emissions cost-effectively
Today, most buildings in the UK burn fossil fuels for space and water heating. Indeed, almost 60% of non-domestic heat is currently generated by gas (the majority of which is now imported from overseas). We need to cut bills and emissions in this part of the economy, while ensuring people maintain the same level of comfort in buildings.
There are technologies which have great potential to help us strike this balance, such as biogas, hydrogen and heat pumps.
However, heat supply should not be looked at in isolation, but hand in hand with heat demand. Policies to decarbonise heat must be complementary with policies that drive energy efficiency. The ultimate aim should be for Government to set the framework and let the markets deliver.
Data from the Government’s ‘Building energy efficiency survey’ indicates that it would be possible to reduce energy consumption across the non-domestic sector by 39% through installing more efficient equipment and improving energy management. Almost half of this potential came from measures with a private investment payback of three years or less. The estimated bill savings from these measures would be £1.2 billion a year.
While the wider questions around the future decarbonisation of heat are being considered, there are a number of actions we can take now — targeting those buildings off the gas grid, for example using oil for heat, remains a sensible approach. Work is underway to reform the Renewable Heat Incentive to rebalance the scheme and ensure it delivers its objectives in a manner which is affordable and offers value for money.
Ken Sharpe is editor of Modern Building Services.
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