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Zero carbon by 2019?

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An update to EU law will bring the UK closer to its ‘zero carbon by 2019’ objective, writes Nick Cullen

This article focuses on the impact the new EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will have on Part L of the Building Regulations. The EPBD, which came into force in 2003, is best known for leading to the introduction of building energy labelling. It also directly affected the 2006 revision to Part L of the Building Regulations.

As with all EU directives, the provisions of the EPBD have to be transposed into UK law, and this revision requires member states to implement the majority of the articles no later than 9 January 2013. As well as Part L, the other legislation impacted by the EPBD is the Energy Performance of Buildings (Certificates and Inspections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is in the process of consulting on a package of measures for implementation in the 2013 revision to Part L. The new EPBD introduced changes with regards to common methodologies, minimum standards, cost optimal evaluation and a requirement for enhanced documentation in renewable energy feasibility studies. Part L already sets minimum standards and seeks to set cost-effective targets through regulatory impact assessments, and the additional documentation covering renewable energy studies is likely to be dealt with by amending existing software (SAP and SBEM).

The EU directive calls for ‘nearly zero-energy buildings’ and drops all references to carbon. However the UK will continue to use CO2 as a metric, but has introduced a new energy metric in relation to the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard for domestic property. The DCLG believes that the UK approach will satisfy the EU definition.

The government is committed to a zero-carbon non-domestic building objective by 2019, and the consultation on Part L has this clearly in view. The consultation proposes a 20 per cent aggregate reduction in carbon emissions in the non-domestic sector. This change represents a significant step towards the zero-carbon target, and one where the long-term benefits in terms of energy savings to building users are substantial, and carbon savings are twice the 11 per cent aggregate reduction used for comparison. The modelling presented in the consultation assumes the cost-effective use of building-integrated renewables across the whole non-domestic sector.

It is interesting to note that while warehouses, hotels and schools can cost-effectively improve their facade performance, the target improvement in offices is best achieved by increasing the energy efficiency of building system components such as boilers, chillers and fan coil units, and improving control through CO2 sensing and variable-speed fans. This is due to offices predominantly requiring cooling, in contrast to other building types for which heating is the main priority. Improving offices’ facade performance can therefore be counterproductive.

The new EPBD gives further impetus to the low-carbon refurbishment market and this is picked up in the Part L proposals. The directive requires the energy performance of existing buildings of any size (currently 1,000m²) undergoing major renovations to be upgraded in order to meet minimum energy-performance requirements. This means that ‘consequential improvements’ to the energy performance of smaller domestic-scale commercial properties have arrived.

The Part L consultation discusses these requirements and also sets certain conditions as part of consequential improvements - such as the availability of Green Deal finance, and that the work must be in proportion to the original works and notifiable under the Building Regulations.

The recast of the EPBD has strengthened the provisions for the energy performance of buildings. Its importance is that it sets common standards across Europe which are in sync with the direction of UK policy and Part L. The UK’s property and construction have been through a rapid learning curve since the first EPBD came in in 2003. It is a mark of how far we have come that the recast has not caused the scale of comment that an EU directive aimed at such an important business sector might have been expected to attract.

Nick Cullen is a partner at Hoare Lea consulting engineers and a member of the BCO Environmental Sustainability Group

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