It’s been nearly four months since I joined the DG Cities team, and while I had no idea what was in store for me when I first started, I have certainly learned a lot in my time here. I’ve had the chance to work on a number of exciting and diverse projects, all of which have reminded me, more so than ever, of just how rapidly technology is shaping the towns and cities we live in.
One particular project I’ve been working on for the past few months is an in-depth report for clients of the Strategic Research Programme (SRP), a Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) testing project that is part of the broader Smart Mobility Living Lab: London. The aim of the research report is to assess how mobility will change in the future and how our current modes of transport will be redefined. What I specifically have been looking at is how internal combustion vehicles will slowly become obsolete as the electrification of vehicles rapidly increases. Despite this shift, the bigger changes will likely arise from the rapid development of artificial intelligence and digital connectivity, which are transforming cities and enabling the continued development of CAVs. That said, it is still not clear if and when this technology will create a breakthrough. In the meantime, DG Cities is undertaking a number of CAV-testing projects that seek to fully understand how this technology can be used to improve, rather than hinder, the progress of cities.
In addition to my engagement in CAV-related research, I’m also dipping my toes in the smart home and renewable energy sectors through my work on one of DG Cities’ newest projects: IDEMA. The purpose of this technical feasibility study is to build a concept design of an off-site manufactured (OSM) building, which ultimately aims to improve the overall speed and efficiency of the construction industry.
So why is this project important?
At present, the UK is targeting to deliver 1.5 million homes by 2022. Some argue that this is a steep target given that current traditional methods of construction can typically take years to fully complete homes. In light of these issues, OSM is being considered as a potential way to improve the speed of construction.
In addition to their slow speed of development, the building sector is also considered inefficient from an environmental perspective. Due to inadequate building insulation, the domestic sector consumes the most energy, second to transport. The high energy demand of buildings has consequently made them one of the largest emitters of C02, typically accounting for more than 70% of emissions in London.
With this in mind, and in order to deliver the goals of the Paris Agreement, global leading cities, including London, have recently signed the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. This Commitment ensures that new and existing buildings will be net zero carbon by 2050. According to the World Green Building Council, a net zero carbon building is highly efficient and is powered by renewable energy sources. In order for London to achieve its 2050 net zero carbon goal, at least 70% of existing buildings will need to be retrofitted to have adequate energy performance (EPC C or above) by 2030. Without meeting this intermediate goal, we will not be able to meet our zero carbon target.
If you’re wondering how London is currently doing with respect to this goal: according to the Greater London Authority (2018) only 35% of buildings have adequate energy efficiency. This indicates that we have a long way to go until we achieve our 70% target in the next 11 years. With the 2012 governmental cutbacks for energy efficiency retrofits and the withdrawal of the near zero carbon regulation in the UK, the number of building retrofits have fallen, and there appears to be little incentive to strive for a zero carbon building.
For London to ultimately meet its global net zero carbon commitment, it needs to establish and implement strong governmental policies and incentives that drive these goals. Furthermore, it is vital that the country as a whole focuses on decarbonising its grid by shifting to renewable sources of energy. This shift will be a major driver for achieving net zero carbon within London, given that if the city’s backbone is still dependent on fossil fuels (e.g. natural gas), it will be impossible for it to fully decarbonise.
Nonetheless, the onus of reaching zero carbon does not solely lie within the government’s hands; there is a great opportunity for housebuilders and developers to push the boundaries and design buildings to be as efficient as possible. DG Cities is striving to help them do just that by seeking to demonstrate how near zero carbon OSM buildings can be successfully delivered and how renewable energy technologies can be utilised to meet and potentially exceed energy demands.
IDEMA is one of the many projects that need to be delivered in order for London to meet its 2050 target. A major push for similar projects, backed by government subsidies, supportive regulations and incentives, is needed in order for London to meet its 2030 and 2050 goals. Now is the time for all stakeholders involved in the building sector to collectively identify solutions that will reimagine energy efficiency within the building sector and deliver positive benefits for the environment.