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Paul Morrell publishes interim low carbon construction findings

The chief construction adviser, Paul Morrell, has called for a government Programme Manager to oversee the low-carbon transition, and that London will be a new Low Carbon Economic Area.

A report of emerging findings from the Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth Team (IGT), published today, has called for a government Programme Manager to oversee projects that will move the UK towards a low carbon economy.

The key recommendation of the report, which was chaired by chief construction adviser Paul Morrell, was that the government should commmission a Programme Manager to plan and oversee the execution of the physical work assumed in the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan.

It was also announced that London is to be designated a Low Carbon Economic Area for energy efficient buildings. The IGT’s final report will be presented to the government at the end of 2010.

“To be ‘fit for purpose’ the industry first has to be fit, and it has been weakened by the fall in its workload since 2007.”

IGT interim report

Other recommendations in the interim report included the introduction into the Green Book of a requirement to conduct a whole life carbon appraisal and that each Local Authority should be tasked to produce a renewable energy strategy and stock audit,

Further recommendations are that Infrastructure UK and the engineering institutions should collaborate with government to develop a workable system of carbon accounting, and that there should be a resolution of the question of the discount rate for whole life carbon.

Stimulating demand and having confidence that the market will change will both be fundamental to bringing about change, said the report.

“To be ‘fit for purpose’ the industry first has to be fit, and it has been weakened by the fall in its workload since 2007, and by the consequent loss of capacity. Innovation, the development of skills, and investment in business and industry improvement all feed off workload,” it said.

Paul Morrell, chief construction adviser

Paul Morrell, chief construction adviser

The emerging findings were welcomed by the government, the ICE and the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA). “The construction industry is central to the UK meeting our stretching carbon targets and I welcome the findings from the construction IGT which clearly show they are up to this challenge,” said business secretary Lord Mandelson.

However, CECA national director Rosemary Beales called for a Carbon Investment Roadmap. “The report identifies the important role that infrastructure will play in meeting these low carbon aspirations, and highlights the need to streamline planning and delivery of strategically important projects – something that CECA has long championed,” she said.

“I welcome the findings from the construction IGT which clearly show they are up to this challenge.”

Business secretary Lord Mandelson

ICE president Paul Jowitt said of the report: “We fully support the proposition to look into how the regulatory regime can be changed to ensure infrastructure is given more prominence and recognition as a primary facilitator of the transition to a low carbon economy.”

The report said few businesses accurately understand the sheer scale of the undertaking ahead and there is skepticism about when or even whether the necessary behavioural changes will happen in the industry.

The IGT identified several barriers to progress towards low carbon construction, including the need to focus more on clients’ and shareholders’ interests; the lack of collaborative integration of the supply chain; the failure to consider projects on a whole life basis; a need for tools for carbon accounting; and the lack of drivers for a change in customer demand, meaning the supply side is not investing in new products and services.

Issues and tasks

Specific issues identified as affecting infrastructure:

  • the stress placed on our ageing infrastructure by a growing population, compounded by the demands imposed by the transition to a low carbon economy;
  • the ability of users and/or tax revenues to service the funding of infrastructure projects − the most significant constraint on development;
  • the need for a shift in the regulatory regime that makes initial use of utilities easy and affordable and increasing use more prohibitive, and to a regime that plays a more integrated enabling role in the transition to low carbon;
  • a new approach to the development of best practice, codes and standards, which should move away from a prescriptive to an output-led basis − and which given the lead-in time for major infrastructure projects, need to be turned around faster;
  • the adoption of evaluation models for infrastructure solutions that reflect the inclusion of carbon as a primary design constraint.

The report identified three tasks for companies in the construction industry:

  • to de-carbonise their own business, wherever they may be in the supply chain;
  • to provide the owners and occupiers of both new and existing stock with buildings that enable them to lead more energy efficient lives;
  • to provide the infrastructure which enables the supply of clean energy and sustainable practices in other areas of the economy, such as transport and agriculture.

 

“Over the next 40 years, the Low Carbon Transition Plan is virtually a business plan for construction,” said the report. It said the programme of work over the next four decades should be used as an opportunity to reform the structure and practice of the industry.

The report also defended the tendency to focus on carbon above all other emissions. “Carbon reduction is not the only critical issue for the industry, nor the only measure of sustainability, but a concentration on carbon brings simplicity and rigour, and provides a new focus for action and a sense of priority,” it said.

Analysis: Moving to a low-carbon economy

Since the government passed the Climate Change Act in 2008, people have been rather slow to wake up to the fact that something must be done to make the government’s targets a reality. Ed Owen reports.

Two lines in the sand have been drawn − the first is to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The second is to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050.

These deadlines seem a long way off, but, according to energy and climate change minister Joan Ruddock, the UK is “on track” to meet the 2020 target: “Since 1990, the UK’s emissions have been cut by 22%, which means we’ll more than meet the international commitments we made,” she said last week.

However, these numbers do not reveal the effect of the recession − people are driving and travelling less, while oil and gas prices remain very high, reducing demand. And some of the other work designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions − such as the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) − have to be acknowledged as a failure so far, with the price for a tonne of carbon languishing around the £11.50 (€13) mark.

Energy experts agree that the price for emitted carbon needs to increase dramatically for a significant impact to be felt and for low-carbon industries to feel the benefits of penalties for high carbon emitters.

The real work to get somewhere towards the 2050 target of an 80% reduction is, in the words of chief construction adviser Paul Morrell, the: “biggest change management programme that the industry has faced since Victorian times.”

While a number of reports have been written and policies drawn-up to plot a course to achieving these targets, is anything actually being done?

Three reports published this week have broadly the same view − action needs to be taken, and taken now.
Most important for the construction sector is the report by Morrell’s Innovation and Growth Team (IGT) for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

His “emerging findings” report is full of alarming statements, which perhaps reinforce the mammoth task ahead: “[over the coming 20 years], an average of 700,000 dwellings per annum will need to be retrofitted to bring them up to acceptable levels of energy efficiency.”

But how? On paper this sounds like a large task, but as the financing, incentives, logistics, and supply chain are yet to be put into place, the challenge seems all the more difficult.

A £17M fund to retrofit and make houses more efficient was unveiled by the government in February. This sum looks paltry considering the scale of the challenge.

A second report, this time by the Royal Academy forEngineering, is equally alarming. It examined how plausible it is to manage power supply and demand up to 2050. The UK already faces an energy ‘gap’ as nuclear power plants, currently supplying around 17% of our power, will all be offline bar Sizewell ‘B’ by 2023.

Its message was simple − without reducing demand the UK will need to build a large number of power stations it cannot afford.

Renewables will have their part to play, but there are problems here, too, highlighted by the ICE in the third report. In its ‘Unlocking the Potential’ report into renewable power, the message was again that not enough is being done (News last week).

ICE vice president Richard Coackley said the renewable industry needs a clear set of policies that will encourage research and development, as was done in the oil and gas industry in the 1970s.

To make the transition to decarbonise much of the UK’s infrastructure will clearly be a job of mind-boggling complexity and scale. But it should be a good opportunity for engineers too.

“We need transformational investment in infrastructure but it is also an industrial and employment opportunity,” said Morrell.

“No one should underestimate the sheer scale of the opportunity the transition to a low carbon economy will offer the construction industry”.

 

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