London mayor Boris Johnson wants London to be the greenest city in the world by 2025. Antony Oliver talks to his environmental advisor Martin Powell about how this ambition will be realised.
For the London mayor’s environmental advisor Martin Powell, the last few weeks have seen a welcome flurry of new initiatives, strategy documents and practical steps to boost the capital’s green credentials.
At the heart of this activity is the mayor’s draft Climate Change Mitigation and Energy strategy, the consultation for which was launched in October and completes early in the New Year.
This bold strategy hopes reduce carbon dioxide emissions, maximise economic opportunities along the road to a low carbon future and ensure a secure and reliable energy supply for London. The prize, it reckons, is some 14,000 jobs in the capital and a £3.7bn a year boost in business activity.
Mayor Boris Johnson’s route to London becoming “the greenest city on earth” includes some ambitious targets. He wants to see the capital cut its carbon emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2025 - starting with a 20% drop by 2015 - and to supply 25% of London’s energy from renewable sources by 2025.
“The targets are realistic,” explains Powell, the man charged with making the ambition a reality. “The strategy is not just saying that we are going to make 60% reductions in CO2 levels. We are also saying where we expect those savings to come from.”
“We have cleaned up the buses, cleaned up the taxis and we have a range of measures so that by 2012 even the white van man is going to be affected”
Powell has been in the role since June this year in an interim capacity while the incumbent environmental advisor Isabel Dedring is on maternity leave. The role encompasses the development and implementation of a range of strategies across policies, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, energy, air quality, waste, biodiversity and noise.
Some of the most visible environmental initiatives in the capital are around transport. Most recent is the so-called “Boris Bike” bicycle hire scheme which launched in July with 5,000 bikes, and which was last month expanded with a further 2,000 bikes due to its success.
Low emission buses
Equally visible are the fleets of low emission, hydrogen powered buses, a key part of the strategy to clean up London’s public vehicles. This will see a further 1,000 public vehicles converted to run on electricity by 2015 in the bid to cut emission but also, critically, to tackle air quality.
“A big part of our air quality problem is transport,” explains Powell. “We have cleaned up the buses, cleaned up the taxis and we have a range of measures so that by 2012 even the white van man is going to be affected.”
Air quality is a serious issue for Powell, not least because, aside from the obvious health problems, London is at real risk from substantial European fines for breaching air quality standards in many locations.
Last month’s launch of a radical new dust suppression machine trial to tackle pollution poor air quality hot spots highlights the need to meet the problem on all fronts.
The system sprays a solution of calcium magnesium acetate onto the road surface that literally sticks particulate matter to the carriageway and prevents it re-circulating in the air. Depending on the trial results, the schemes could be widened from the two pilot zones now underway. However, for Powell the real key is around changing behaviours and reducing emissions and particulate pollution at source.
“We can’t keep being on the back foot about this issue. It is important that we do not breach EU pollution levels”
“We can’t keep being on the back foot on this issue,” says Powell. “It is important that we do not breach EU levels but actually the real prize is that we are investing in electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles and have retrofitted all of our buses to reduce the amount of particulate matter - a whole range of things to improve the air quality.”
The desire to boost electric vehicles in the capital is very close to Johnson’s heart and despite funding for a national electric vehicle charging programme falling foul of the recent comprehensive spending review, in London cash is still being invested.
The Source London scheme was launched on 6 November and will go live in early 2011. With the goal of making London “the electric vehicle capital of Europe” it promises some 1,300 electric vehicle charging points across the capital by 2013.
“One of the big things that we wanted to keep hold of was our electric vehicle funding,” explains Powell, pointing out that with 2,100 pure electric vehicles registered in the congestion charge zone, London is the leading European city. “The mayor sees this as having huge potential for our city but also as a measure to tackle air quality. The target is to put 100,000 electric vehicles on the streets as soon as possible.”
Source London will start to work alongside other measures such as a greener vehicle discount for using the congestion zone to turn the target into a reality.
Meanwhile, of course, the western extension to London’s pioneering congestion charge zone is set to be dropped on Christmas Eve this year following a public consultation. However, Powell believes that the removal of this zone will not impact air quality.
“The main congestion zone is still there and it is serving its purpose. However, the extension was never designed as an air quality measure,” he explains. “[Instead] we are encouraging more consolidation centres around the city to reduce the number of vans driving around in London. You can then have one compact electric truck replacing 20 others darting around and adding to congestion and pollution.”
Alongside transport, the second major plank of London’s low carbon strategy is around decentralised energy supply and energy from waste schemes. The target is to source 25% of London’s energy supply from decentralised energy sources by 2025 .
“We are currently looking at a number of district heating schemes across the capital,” says Powell. “We have created a heat map for London which shows where all the heat demand is and this is very useful for developers and for the waste industry. We need to help to stimulate that market where the upfront cost is a lot higher.”
The Thames Gateway Heat Network is a major project which Powell hopes to pilot taking waste heat from Barking Power Station. He reckons that the heat now wasted from this 1GW combined cycle power station could supply 120,000 homes with heating and hot water effectively for nothing.
“If the network is there then it is easier for a developer to connect to it,” he points out, adding that the GLA will be working with local authorities and waste firms to ensure that the energy potential of the capital’s waste stream is utilised.
Micro renewable generation
Micro renewable generation will also be promoted across the capital and Powell is hopeful that public cash will be available to stimulate markets such as roof mounted solar not least by providing information to demystify the technologies and supply chain.
Beyond energy supply, the final big set of initiatives currently being rolled out is around boosting the efficiency of the capital’s domestic and commercial property. Already Powell has a range of schemes up and running with investment and support for retrofitting building stock.
The schemes are RE:NEW, formerly the Homes Energy Efficiency Programme to tackle domestic property; RE:FIT, the rebranded Buildings Energy Efficiency Programme for commercial buildings; and RE:CONNECT, ten low carbon zones to encourage community engagement should ensure that London has the most energy efficient building stock of any city in the world.
RE:NEW for example, explains Powell, has been rolled out across the capital following a recent series of pilots by local authorities with 8,000 homes to encourage and help householders improve the energy performance of their property.
The driver - and funding route - is the obligation now placed on energy utilities to ensure that they are helping the public to use less energy. But the key, he explains, is to create a single trusted brand so as to introduce scale and so bring down the cost of retrofitting London’s three million largely old and inefficient homes.
“Once you are looking and talking at scale you can actually design a programme that will deliver,” he explains.
“The programme is street by street - you get better take up, you bring the cost down and create much more awareness. We are trying to get a common look and feel across London so that people see the same kind of activity with the same kind of van.”
By the time the government’s new Green Deal comes into force, allowing householder to fund improvements with future savings, Powell hopes Londoners will better understand the market and have a framework of quality builders to draw on to do the work.
“Transitioning to a new green economy is about building on London’s strengths - exploiting our business services and our engineering services which are considered world class,” he says. “We’d like London to be the centre of low carbon measurement - the Greenwich Mean Time for carbon - and so build another competence to export.”
Martin Powell CV
Powell is the mayoral advisor on the environment responsible for policy development in Energy & Climate Change, Adaptation, Water, Air Quality and Waste. He is also Director of Environment & Capital Projects at the London Development Authority.
He was formerly a management consultant responsible for delivery of business improvement for several global organisations.
Martin has a degree in engineering. At Arup he was responsible for the delivery of several high profile projects in the UK, Italy, Spain and Asia.
He developed the LDA Environment Strategy, an action plan for London’s transition to the Low Carbon Economy and the Energy Efficiency and Energy Supply Programmes - designed to deliver carbon savings at scale in London.
He has spoken at several high profile events including the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen and the Vancouver Winter Games on how to unlock finance into cities to enable the transition to the low carbon economy.