The government is consulting on the feed-in tariff cut, but Dan Jestico says it should also be asking the industry for views on how non-domestic buildings can be zero carbon by 2019

There’s concern about the UK’s green leadership credentials and I share it.

But I also think we can vastly improve with a bit of planning, dogged determination and teamwork.

As head of research and development at Hilson Moran, I am constantly reviewing new legislation and exploring innovations that can help achieve better environmental performance in buildings and across developments. Part of this work includes examining new policy and regulation, so I have been closely following the emerging feed-in tariff and the road to zero carbon.

Hilson Moran is formally responding to the feed-in tariff consultation and we would encourage others who have a view to do the same. It seems sensible to me that we all contribute to a policy that is going to have a major impact on our work and our clients.

Our view on the feed-in tariff consultation is that a compromise is in order. We’d like to see a tariff that will still encourage take-up of solar PV, but that also gives a return on investment of 5%-8%, rather than the 4.5% quoted in the consultation. The proposed tariff gives solar the highest subsidy of any renewable technology, but it is the only practicable low or zero carbon technology that most people can install. So we should be encouraging it.

The proposed reference date of 12 December 2011 might well be designed to avoid a stampede, but not cutting the tariff by such a drastic amount in the first place would go some way to avoiding this.

Moving onto the road to zero carbon, we’re one year into Part L 2010 and Phase 3 of the communities department-sponsored work into zero carbon non-domestic buildings has been published. I can’t help but wonder about the direction of the conservation of fuel and power policy.

There are three more iterations of Part L to be introduced before the full force of zero carbon non-domestic buildings hits the industry in 2019. While it has its critics, you can’t deny that the current method of analysing non-domestic emissions has led to huge advances in built environment technology, and a fall in emissions of 46% since 2002.

Other promising initiatives are also proposed for dwellings including an “as-built” CO2 measurement standard, the fabric energy efficiency standard (FEES), to determine the efficiency of the built form and building fabric; a framework for the delivery of allowable solutions; and the replacement of current CO2 emissions comparison against a notional building with an absolute limit on dwelling CO2 emissions, measured in kgCO2/m2.

However, there’s more that can be done in the non-domestic sector. We have a great opportunity to create an eight year plan to 2019 and reform the current Part L methodology into a world leading piece of sustainable building policy. We should:

  • Commission the Zero Carbon Hub or an independent industry body to investigate non-domestic buildings and zero carbon compliance in a similar manner to the investigation on how dwellings will comply with the zero carbon definition.
  • Investigate what we can learn from the implementation of the low carbon built environment agenda around the world, similar to the recently updated Zero Carbon Compendium, published by the NHBC Foundation.
  • Take the results from domestic FEES proposals and our learning from other parts of the world and use these to form the backbone of a study into defining a FEES standard for non-domestic buildings, incentivising energy efficient built form.
  • Investigate the possibility a standardised, consistent and demanding notional building to incentivise the adoption of low carbon technologies and servicing strategies, while encouraging efficient building envelopes through existing fabric measures relating to U-values and air tightness in criterion 2 of ADL2A.
  • Encourage further analysis of calculation methods to predict energy and cost savings from energy efficient buildings. Then use these calculations to close the performance gap between predicted and actual emissions.

These steps aren’t yet embraced by the communities department, but the UK Green Building Council is soon to release its green business case and I hope to see confidence that we can do more. Initiative and innovation in our industry must be encouraged. It’s inherent in the Big Society isn’t it?

Dan Jestico is head of research and development at Hilson Moran