Since the changeover to “North Sea Gas”, we have become increasingly dependent on gas to fuel our buildings, as well as many other economic activities.

Estimates vary, but a substantial percentage of the energy we use is in heating and cooling the built environment and if we hope to move to a more sustainable future, this energy use must be reduced by an order of magnitude – Factor 10 at least – and the remainder supplied by low and zero carbon (LZC) technologies.

This is the imperative behind the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the UK government’s implementation of it in the fuel and power conservation changes to Parts F and L of the Building Regulations, although Factor 10 is still a long way off. Our propensity to educate for industrial and environmental decline for more than a century has led to the situation where there is now an insufficient UK science and engineering base to maintain and extend the infrastructure built up over the 20th century.

This is of particular concern, as determining the energy performance of buildings is a complex mix of engineering science, climatic and geographic integration. The new requirements are for simplified or advanced modelling of all new buildings and renovations from 6 April 2006 to meet increasingly stringent carbon dioxide emission rates. Building design, modelling and simulation is therefore of prime importance, but delivering improved energy performance over the life cycle of a building depends on the regulations’ requirement for maintenance information and the occupants’ understanding of energy management.

The obstacles to achieving this are:

  • an acute shortage of skills in the use and interpretation of modelling and simulation software; and
  • a failure in school design for education in energy management.

The Department for Education and Science sustainability action plan “Learning for the Future” recognises this, and the opportunity must be grasped to promote these skills as part of the planned changes in vocational education.

Many schools are now being fitted with LZC technologies such as wind turbines, and while of interest as an educational tool of themselves, it is as part of an integrated energy monitoring and conservation programme that their educational potential will be fully realised.

Education for sustainability in the built environment is now taking a high priority in many higher education institutions and this is to be welcomed. However, it must be realised that simply providing skills to built environment students will not suffice – students in all other disciplines must learn the importance of their contribution to energy management and conservation.

Derek Deighton, via email