Ecobuild’s seminar and conference programmes will feature more than 400 speakers from industry, government and beyond. Here, some of these experts give a sneak preview of their key messages

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Mat Colmer

Mat Colmer

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 12.30 - 14.00
Session: Innovate UK Building Performance Evaluation programme
Talk: Programme overview and the overarching challenges
Speaker: Mat Colmer, lead technologist - Building Performance Evaluation, Innovate UK

Given that buildings contribute around 45% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is increasingly clear that the government’s 2050 carbon reduction target of 80% requires a fundamental change in the way we construct and operate them.

In order to improve the performance of a building, it is necessary to understand exactly what is going on. From schools to supermarkets, detached houses to high-density flats, the Innovate UK Building Performance Evaluation (BPE) programme has been studying how well buildings perform. We have supported over 100 successful projects and investigated the performance of various design strategies, building fabric, target performances, construction methods and occupancy patterns, handover and operational practices.

Projects have encountered significant problems with integrating new technologies, which has led to increasing complexity in configuring and optimising systems. Some teams have had problems with reconciling metering and understanding the systems that were in place, while others have had issues with control and maintenance.

While early adoption of new technologies may make operational issues inevitable, the concern is that most systems continue to be installed without being monitored or regularly commissioned. This often leads to building underperformance with no clear understanding of what happened between the designers’ objectives and occupants moving in - hence the “performance gap”.

In the coming years, as both policy and practice focus on better performing buildings, the operational efficiency over a building’s lifetime will become a major factor in both client and tenant decision-making. The outcomes of the BPE programme will help industry to move forward with increased understanding, ensuring the delivery of new zero-carbon buildings is more readily and widely achievable.

Beth Ambrose

Beth Ambrose

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 16.15 - 17.45
Session: Connecting sustainable buildings with health, productivity and wellbeing
Talk: Connecting and delivering creative, innovative, collaborative and flexible workplaces which influence productivity, health and wellbeing: practical examples in commercial buildings
Speaker: Beth Ambrose, associate director - upstream sustainability service, JLL

Staff costs typically account for about 90% of a business’ operating costs. What seems like a modest improvement in employee health or productivity can therefore have a significant financial impact on employers.

In 2014, the World Green Building Council, along with JLL, Skanska, Lend Lease and industry experts from across the globe, embarked on a fascinating project to collate evidence of how office buildings contribute to people’s health, wellbeing and productivity. One of the outcomes was a toolkit to help the industry effectively apply that knowledge. That same year, the global WELL Building standard was also released.

Property professionals will increasingly aim to gather and provide much more information on the factors of a building’s performance that mean most to its occupiers. Importantly, we will also be feeding that information back into practical design and construction processes. Assessments will include occupier perception studies of the space and location, gathering HR and finance data, and measuring specific technical aspects such as daylight levels, indoor air quality and thermal comfort.

If a particular building or space can demonstrate that it is very likely to provide health and productivity benefits over and above another, we expect its attractiveness to occupiers to increase. At JLL we are already seeing some occupiers taking these issues into account in location and fit-out designs. As this continues to play out in the market, the shift will drive significant positive change in our offices over the coming years.


Guglielmo Carra

Guglielmo Carra

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 16.15-17.45
Session: Towards a photosynthetic architecture - the role of bio-based materials in the built environment.
Talk: Bio-composite materials for building construction systems
Speaker: Dr. Guglielmo Carra, senior engineer - materials consulting, Arup

In my presentation I will be talking about the design and development of four building construction systems made from biocomposites. These include the world´s first panel for structural facades, as developed in the BioBuild project.

It is well known that the so-called “business as usual” scenario does not represent a viable option for a sustainable future and that different development models have to be identified. The construction sector must reflect this urgency of change; in particular, the development and use of alternative materials to improve the sustainability and the quality of buildings is central to the current debate.

Biocomposites are composed of natural fibres such as flax, hemp and jute and natural resin derived from sugar cane and corn. These are fast-growing plants that regenerate in short cycles. With appropriate processing they can be converted into lightweight and durable products with good mechanical behaviour. As a result, biocomposites can reduce the embodied energy of building components by up to 50% when compared to conventional construction materials, and produce no increase in cost. At the same time, they increase the thermal performance of the building.

The use of biocomposites has the potential to grow in the construction industry over the next few years through a process of constant implementation and engineering. The BioBuild project demonstrated that through a collaborative approach involving researchers, raw materials manufacturers, designers and contractors it is possible to develop bio-based solutions that comply with ever more stringent building construction standards.

Chris Twinn

Chris Twinn

Date: Thursday 5 March, 10.30 - 12.00
Session: Future sustainability: From cost plus to cost minus
Talk: The new drivers for change and how we can deliver win/win
Speaker: Chris Twinn, principal, TwinnSustainabilityInnovation, and member, The Edge

The world has changed. Expecting clients to pay a premium for sustainability enhancements is no longer an option. The economic turndown has seen that discretionary margin evaporate in favour of simply staying in business. To add insult to injury, payback periods for energy-saving investments have disappeared out of sight.

But the macro-economics is also changing. The rapid growth and buying power of the emerging economies means the price of raw materials is increasing. This means that living standards in the West can only be maintained if we substantially reduce the amount of resources we consume.

This challenge is now being answered by those who realised sustainability should cost less than business-as-usual; with less materials, smaller electrical and mechanical systems, and use of smart technology to reduce costs.

Innovators are recognising that new tablet-based ways of working don’t require engineers to meet prescriptive British Council for Offices standards of providing 25W/m2 of small power and cooling capacity. They also know that smart technology means enabling and harnessing individuals’ ability to interface with the buildings they occupy rather than loading our buildings up with inflexible automated systems that are expensive and use more energy.

This involves thinking more about how to do things better than rehashing yesterday’s solutions. It requires professionals to work better and smarter to reduce resource use rather than simply selling more of the same old ideas. This underpins former chief construction adviser Paul Morrell’s report into the future of the professions for industry think tank The Edge.


Matthew Rhodes

Matthew Rhodes

Date: Wednesday 4 March, 10.30 - 12.00
Session: Smart and efficient use of future energy
Talk: A community-led approach to optimising the UK energy system: a case study from a mixed community of 8,000 homes
Speaker: Matthew Rhodes, managing director, Encraft

Price fluctuations in UK energy supply have a major impact, ranging from making some households vulnerable to fuel poverty to affecting the viability of businesses.

When our energy system was designed in the fifties and sixties, the technologies then available really only supported a highly centralised approach (rather like the first mainframe computers). This approach tends to favour a small number of large central generators and makes it difficult and expensive to support and value energy efficiency or micro-generation in individual buildings. As a consequence, energy bills across the UK could be up to 30% too high.

Technology has moved on since 1960, and it is now possible to conceive of much more flexible and dynamic energy systems, still operating safely and effectively but much more able to cope with and value distributed, local generators and energy efficiency. Like everyone in a large company having a laptop and the internet, this is potentially a much more efficient way to run the system than relying on a single central data-processing department staffed by men in white coats.

Getting from the centralised approach to a distributed, community-led UK energy system will be challenging. However, a number of projects across the country are beginning to pilot new approaches using the latest IT and smart grid technologies, and this session will present a case study of one such pilot in Wiltshire.

Barny Evans

Barny Evans

Date: Thursday 5 March, 12.30 - 14.00
Session: On-site renewables - business case and technology selection
Talk: What are the available technologies and factors for consideration during selection?
Speaker: Barny Evans, principal consultant, renewables and energy efficiency, WSP

On-site renewables offer a golden opportunity for businesses to reduce their energy bills, their CO2 emissions and increase competitiveness. Many technologies are so cost-effective they are becoming a given for many projects. Building regulations already effectively mandate renewables on new schemes and energy managers are arguably not doing their job properly if they have a suitable roof on an existing development that doesn’t have a solar array on it. The government has embarked on a new drive to incentivise on-site renewables because of antipathy towards industrial-scale solar and wind farms.

Finance is no longer an issue for many schemes. Although many privately funded schemes don’t stack up because a lot of industrial and commercial clients have payback periods of less than three years, investors including the Green Investment Bank accept much longer payback ties. If a robust techno-economic business case for the proposed technology is provided, then it is almost always the case that funding is available at little or no upfront cost.

Having said all of this, it is important not to rush into investments, as the rapidly changing landscape of technologies and government incentives can create a gold-rush mentality, with pound signs blinding rational analysis. At WSP, most of the projects on which we have worked have been well engineered, with solid analysis, but we have seen schemes where things have been overlooked, from performance degradation to underestimated thermal loss on heat networks.

Looking into the future, as power storage becomes mainstream, every company may be its own power supplier and broker, making on-site generation even more valuable.


Arno Schmickler

Arno Schmickler

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 16.15 - 17.45
Session: Learning from refurbishment successes in Europe
Talk: How can European successes inform UK refurbishment
Speaker: Arno Schmickler, director, Urbarno
Talk: Energiesprong case study: Using off-site manufacturing, energy performance contracting and structured finance to create a market for net zero energy refurbishments to 100,000 homes
Speaker: Ron van Erck, manager, European market, Energiesprong

“When your target is net zero energy, everything becomes simple.” This was Jan-Willem van de Groep’s advice to the delegation of English housing associations and businesses who recently visited the Netherlands as part of a National Housing Federation led study tour. With 80% of the UK’s 2050 housing stock already built, everyone agrees that energy efficient retrofit is a good and necessary thing. Where we’ve gone a step further in the Netherlands is moving beyond single measures such as new windows and boilers to a true whole-house approach.

Energiesprong, literally “energy leap”, is currently delivering 111,000 whole-house retrofits to net zero energy levels via an off-site manufactured building envelope and funded by savings delivered via a contractor-guaranteed energy performance contract.

The project has four central elements:

  • An insurer-backed energy performance guarantee by the contractor
  • Ten-day delivery timetable of all work
  • Affordability - the investment is financed by the resulting guaranteed energy cost savings
  • Attractiveness - the refurbishment package must be attractive to occupants, both improving residents’ quality of life and the appearance of the house.

Such a programme focuses on what is best for both tenants and housing associations while taking issues such as funding and delivery out of the hands of government and into those who actually deliver or live in the property in question. It is ripe for transfer to the UK.

Jeremy Kape

Jeremy Kape

Date: Thursday 5 March, 10.30 - 12.00
Session: Financing domestic retrofit: alternatives to the Green Deal
Talk: Creating a rent-based pay-as-you-save model
Speaker: Jeremy Kape, director of property investment, Affinity Sutton

The green deal hasn’t worked! It has failed to deliver any notable energy efficiency improvements, nor has it engaged the general public in the need or benefits of retrofitting their home. The Energy Companies Obligation has been decimated and the Renewable Heat Incentive has failed to get any traction. So what a terrible time to be involved in improving the energy efficiency of our homes …

Or is it? Confidence is indeed low among many landlords as a result of recent policy changes. But the ambition remains because the issues remain. The UK has carbon reduction targets to meet and the social and private rent sector are dealing with the significant and growing scourge of fuel poverty, to which the recent decrease in energy prices will provide scant relief.

So, while it has become more difficult, it has also become a time of opportunity, innovation and fresh thinking. To be successful we need to shift our thinking. New models are emerging. The Netherlands’ Energiesprong [see above] is a potentially transformational approach to funding and insulating homes. Its success in the UK would require a paradigm shift in the way we work as a supply chain.

But that’s not all! What about the Decent Homes standard for social landlords - does this now direct much-needed investment away from eliminating fuel poverty into priorities that have already been met? How about landlords having the flexibility to determine and invest in the priorities for their homes and residents? Such a flexibility supports a rent-based pay-as-you-save model, reducing cost and complexity of the Green Deal and based on a contribution only, guarding against leaving low-income households worse off.

It may be frustrating, but terrible it is not. New ideas are emerging but we have to have the courage and vision to make them work.


Dean Kalek

Dean Kalek

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 16.15 - 17.45
Session: Ask the expert - Energy storage masterclass
Talk: Energy Storage systems for residential and commercial applications
Speaker: Dean Kalek, technical trainer, SMA

Storing energy generated during periods of low demand to use during periods of high demand can help to bring down costs to business, the public sector and consumers by lowering energy bills and increasing self-consumption.

To ensure the progress of this energy transition, we need affordable, easy-to-install and intelligently connected plug-and-play systems that suit nearly every household. With integrated PV storage systems, the consumer is able to make efficient use of their self-generated power, even after the sun has gone down. In the past, solar PV battery storage solutions have been price-prohibitive, but with more available solutions driving the price down, residential solutions can now efficiently store PV power that is not being used for later use.

Available residential PV storage solutions are sufficient to supply a four-person household with about three hours of electric current in the evening. These solutions can help self-consumption rates increase from 30% to typically 55%, making solar power usage possible nearly 24 hours a day. The upside to consumers and business is the path to energy independence, with up to 50-55% less electricity required to be purchased from electric utilities. Storage solutions are also being used to reduce system costs for other low-carbon technologies - for example, by powering electric vehicles domestically and on business fleets.

The ability to store renewable power will help achieve the low carbon targets of the UK. On a wider scale, energy storage and solar PV storage systems offer solutions to technical challenges such as reinforcing the grid with voltage control. They can also help to move electricity generation to a local model, whether residential or on a larger commercial scale.


Peter Bide

Peter Bide

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 10.45 - 12.15
Session: Effective water policy and practice - more than legislation and standards
Talk: The role of planning in managing the water challenges
Speaker: Peter Bide, independent consultant and former policy adviser to DCLG

The role of planning is important because water supply, water quality, waste-water disposal and flood-risk management are all crucial issues for sustainable development. Water is connected and what happens in one place affects others, so to manage water effectively we need to join up what we do and build it into plans and planning decisions.

To achieve strategic management of water in our urban environments requires big-picture thinking and a connected, partnership approach to water planning, linking local actions on a catchment scale, and joining up management of the key issues. Planners need to work proactively with developers to ensure that all new developments are water sensitive, and not adding to flood risk or putting undue demands on water supply and water disposal facilities. Positive planning for water also provides opportunities to improve water quality, biodiversity and amenity.

Over the next couple of years, through the increasing urban focus of Defra’s catchment-based approach and changes to the planning system being introduced by DCLG, we hope to see more partnership working between local planning authorities and other bodies with an interest in water. By linking local actions on a catchment scale, we can realise the multiple benefits of integrated water management.

Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher

Date: Thursday 5 March, 14.15 - 15.45
Session: Water resilience for cities
Talk: The hazards and risks of “too much” or “too little” water and how city systems work
Speaker: Dr Mark Fletcher, director - global water leader, Arup

Why is water resilience for cities important?
The World Economic Forum1 has identified increased urbanisation and climate change as two of the major trends affecting the world in 2015. It has also identified “water crises”, “extreme weather events” and “failure of climate-change adaptation” within the top 10 global risks in terms of likelihood and impact. We live in a world where our climate is changing, with increasing extremes in terms of too much water - flooding - and too little water - water stress and drought. We also experience extreme weather events such as storms and cyclones. This creates hazards for a city.

What is the trend in the next 1 -2 years?
The trend to urbanisation is increasing (we have passed the point where more than half the world is urban) and we are experiencing a changing climate. We therefore have a situation that warrants serious consideration from a water resilience perspective to manage hazards that can affect cities.

How can we increase our water resilience?
Recent work on the resilience of cities will be presented that highlights the need to see cities as systems and the importance of leadership, organisation, strategy, economy, society, health and well-being, infrastructure and the environment to a more resilient city. Knowledge-sharing is essential in order to understand the context of measures taken to increase urban resilience to this changing climate. Recent work on water-scarce environments will also be referenced.

Conference highlights

Rick Robinson

Rick Robinson

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 13.30 - 14.30
Session: Are smart cities a positive sustainability benefit or an unwelcome invasion of privacy?
Host: Charles Secrett, founding member, Robertsbridge
Speakers: Ian Short, director, Institute for Sustainability; Claire Mookerjee, project lead for urbanism, Future Cities Catapult; Dr Rick Robinson, IT director, smart data and technology, Amey

As the price of technologies such as smartphones, sensors, analytics and cloud platforms reduces rapidly, market dynamics are driving their use in “smart cities” approaches that make city infrastructure and services more efficient and resilient, and their providers more competitive.

But efficiency and resilience do not create health, happiness and opportunity for everyone; and the debate about whether smart city ideas can contribute to those objectives often falters on a destructive and misleading argument between “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches.

The architect Kelvin Campbell has tackled the more constructive challenge of harmonising these approaches through the Smart Urbanism movement, championing the idea that the right top-down policies and environments can give rise to “massive amounts of small-scale [that is, bottom-up] innovation”. The following proposals for technology in cities are inspired by Campbell’s approach:

  • Digital connectivity to be broadly available so that everyone can participate in the digital economy.
  • Non-sensitive city data should be made available as open data and published through “application programming interfaces” (APIs) so that everybody can see how city systems work, and adapt them to their own needs.
  • The data and APIs to conform to open standards so that everybody can understand them, and so that the systems that we rely on can work together.
  • The data and APIs to be available to developers working on cloud computing platforms with open source software so that anyone with a great idea for a new service can get started for free.
  • Smart city systems to be based on open architectures, so that we have freedom to choose which technologies we use, and to change our minds.
  • City stakeholders to participate in an open dialogue about the places we live and work in, informed by open data and enabled by social media.
  • Locally focused, regulated “sharing economy” online business models to be encouraged, using community networks and bartering mechanisms to prefer local transactions - retaining value in the local economy, and reducing the need for motorised transport.

These principles would create the conditions in which vibrant, fair digital cities can grow from the successful innovations of their residents in the information economy.

Dr Rick Robinson, Amey

Dan Epstein

Dan Epstein

Date: Tuesday 3 March, 16.30 - 17.30
Session: Innovation and new materials: Could they revolutionise sustainable construction?
Speakers: Dan Epstein, director of sustainability, Useful Simple Projects; Michael Pawlyn, director, Exploration Architecture; Professor Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society, University College London; Peter Hansford, government chief construction adviser, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; Eddy Taylor, head of sustainability and carbon management, Laing O’Rourke; Sarah Cary, sustainable developments executive, British Land

The government’s 2025 Industrial Strategy for Construction challenges the industry to deliver a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 33% reduction in the initial cost of buildings. Are these objectives irreconcilable?

A typical construction project lasts - let’s say - four years. Given this short project lifecycle, and the perceived impact on risk and costs, why - in the absence of regulation - would an organisation be motivated to select an innovative material in construction? The answer is neatly summarised as risk, reward or reputation.

If we want to accelerate the adoption of innovative materials in pursuit of a more sustainable industry, there needs to be a shift so that the perceived threat to reputation for using high-impact rather than low-impact materials all along the decision chain is increased. As the number of clients concerned for their reputation grows, economies of scale will accrue to the low-impact product producers and the relative reward will shift.

There is cause for optimism; we live in an era of rapid innovation. New materials, products and systems are being developed. There is a new generation of materials that use graphene, third-generation solar cells made from organic materials; algae-filled energy-generating walls; 4D printing and flat-packed buildings. There are new buildings inspired by nature that turn waste into a resource and harness the power of the sun.

Innovation then is all around us. The questions we face are firstly, how could a government create conditions, out of which more innovation would emerge? And second, how could the construction industry take a lead in innovation and creating the regenerative cities, neighbourhoods and buildings we need to ensure we can all enjoy a high quality of life on our small and increasingly crowded planet?

Dan Epstein, Useful Simple Projects


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