Can Collaboration Solve London's Energy Conundrum?

By Hero Bennett

17 November 2017

This week Max Fordham signed up as supporters of LETI – The London Environment Transformation Initiative. This is a group of over 150 cross-disciplinary professionals collaborating on recommendations for London’s energy policy.

The LETI final report contained many recommendations stretching from the metrics used in the London Plan’s Energy Strategy targets to mandated energy disclosure in practice, and better governance of carbon offset payments. I was involved in the initiative as part of the LETI Delivery Mechanisms Group, which looked at how we might implement some of the proposals coming forward.

Within Max Fordham we have an ongoing debate on the issues LETI is hoping to solve. How can policy ensure a fabric-first approach and deliver performance in use, not just in design? How do we ensure new build strategies remain the best solution in the future as well as today? Last week we discussed the LETI recommendations internally to decide whether to back the initiative as a Practice. There was some disagreement on individual recommendations but mostly we agreed the intent was good.

My personal feeling is that, in general, the recommendations would be a vast improvement on the current London Energy policy which is locking new developments into a fossil fuelled future. Some recommendations feel like a no-brainer such as introducing a fabric energy efficiency target or requiring all heat networks to have a Zero Carbon Transition Plan and publically report on annual network performance, cost to users and actual carbon factors (for larger networks at least). Other recommendations would be more difficult to implement and bring added reporting complexity that would need to be weighed up against their benefit.

Within the Delivery Mechanisms Group there was an overall desire to minimise added complexity to current compliance and reporting structures. I think switching from a ‘CO2‘ to an ‘energy’ (kWh) metric would do this; the benefits of reduced energy demand are indisputable, and this approach removes a layer of complexity associated with the carbon intensity of different fuels. It is great news that the grid is decarbonising but the unintended consequence is that without regulation and compliance keeping pace designers are being forced to design-in less efficient systems such as the standard gas CHP approach which is becoming rapidly more carbon intensive than using grid electricity.

I fear that many of the sensible recommendations being made by LETI will be just too much of a deviation from the current path for the GLA, who are busy developing the new version of the London Plan. 

One of the issues highlighted by the Group was that, as an industry, we are often trying to present technical solutions to councils with complex technical arguments. Many councils do not have the expertise or time to follow the arguments – this has an impact on the carbon offset payments they collect and can even lead to rejecting better schemes and solutions simply for being too complex.  We recognised that the GLA could play a greater role in supporting borough councils to understand the technical issues. Of course, as designers, we need to ensure we keep our messages simple. The fact is a lot of the issues preventing the current London Energy policy from being successful are quite technical. When we discuss these things between ourselves at an industry level, we sometimes forget that others are not always aware of the challenges we are trying to overcome or the solutions required.

I have also recently been supporting StART as part of Max Fordham’s Community Engagement programme. StART is a community-led organisation looking to purchase and develop the St Ann’ Hospital site in Haringey to provide genuinely affordable healthy and sustainable homes. Part of my work included helping them to decide whether to endorse the LETI initiative, which they decided to do. If they are able to purchase the site in future many of these very technical issues will become critical to them in delivering a sustainable masterplan, or even for just achieving planning permission.

One thing LETI doesn’t address is embodied CO2. This is a real opportunity for positively impacting climate change through the built environment  because CO2 saved today will have greater impact on climate change than CO2 saved in the future. But that’s another story.


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