The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) institute has proposed that certain technologies be reclassified as energy efficiency measures and not as renewables.

In its response to the Definition of Zero Carbon Homes and Non-Domestic Buildings consultation, RIBA recommended that technologies such as ground source and air to air heat pumps, CHP and district heating should be declassified as renewable and called on the government to implement a more flexible definition of zero carbon, in order to enable the construction industry to deliver low carbon buildings.

The institute has also called for a national energy trajectory towards 80% carbon reduction by 2050 and for a simplification of the planning process for renewables.

Alan Shingler, Head of Sustainability at Sheppard Robson, who led RIBA’s response said: “We encourage the more flexible approach to defining zero carbon, underpinned by a hierarchical approach to emissions reduction, which this consultation proposes. The RIBA also welcomes the ambition to define a similar framework for non-domestic buildings. Clarity of both targets and timescales will provide much needed certainty for the construction sector.

“Whilst we welcome the overall approach, we believe that the proposed legislative framework should not be allowed to confuse or dilute true zero carbon development which takes a holistic approach to sustainability including embodied energy, social and economic longevity, as well as environment and carbon reduction. It is imperative that the definition, and its implication become more transparent for both prospective purchasers and investors. The industry will always need a trailblazer and the ultimate aspiration to achieve true zero carbon should be encouraged.”

A summary of RIBA’s key proposals:

  • We strongly support the target of reducing UK carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 and are encouraged that the Government remains committed to reducing carbon emissions from all new buildings.
  • We believe that a national trajectory to zero carbon is required to underpin efforts by the construction industry and other sectors.
  • Clarity of both targets and timescales to zero carbon will essential to provide certainty for the construction sector.
  • We argue for a more flexible approach to defining zero carbon, underpinned by a hierarchical approach to emissions reduction:

energy use reduction ? energy efficiency through the fabric of the building (incl. heat networks, CHP, heat exchange technology) ? on-site clean energy generation (solar heat, PV, wind) ? remaining energy requirement sourced from off-site clean energy generation

  • District-scale energy and heat networks should be delivered under the guidance provided by a local strategy.
  • We believe that responsibility to deliver and manage community-scale decentralised power generation (e.g. district heating, CHP) should sit with national energy providers and be regulated by government.
  • We believe that the role of biomass in decarbonising energy supply needs to be reappraised.
  • Certain technologies (ground source and air to air heat pumps, district heating, CHP) should be declassified as renewable. We propose that these non-renewable technologies are implemented to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, and that that they should be regulated, assessed and controlled by Building Regulations and not through the planning system.
  • Only ‘on-site’ solutions (energy produced via solar and wind energy through photovoltaics, solar thermal systems or wind turbines) should be classified as renewable. This would simplify the planning process.
  • Renewables targets for individual schemes should be overseen by the planning authority, based on an objective assessment of available roof area, development density and orientation/topography.
  • Pathfinding schemes applying innovative and holistic zero carbon solutions should be encouraged.