The decarbonisation of the built environment is a key priority for Welsh Government.
Not only is it an important component of the climate emergency response, but it will also play a crucial role in reducing fuel poverty.
Establishing a robust policy framework is an important first step but the real challenges lie in delivering decarbonisation on a commercial basis without subsidy. Providing high-quality affordable homes to meet demand is not easy, but with some estimates for zero-carbon technology adding over £30,000 to the average cost of a home then clearly, we face a significant commercial challenge.
There is much to be applauded in Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing programme (IHP). Certainly, it provides the opportunity to test various low/zero-carbon technologies and provide evidence on which have the best chance of commercialisation in the market. However, IHP is a grant programme and cannot be sustained in the long-term.
Tirion has benefited from IHP working with our partners Pobl and Sero Life to deliver the UK’s largest energy positive residential development in Tonyrefail. However, the added value of IHP to Tirion has been the collaborative approach to the project that, in turn, has improved our own expertise in delivering zero-carbon solutions for the benefit of our tenants and the sustainability of our business.
The Parc Eirin project has taught us that the immediate adoption of zero-carbon solutions is not commercially viable in Wales where values are not sufficient to cover the additional costs. However, it has also taught us that there are low cost interventions we can implement now which, when coupled with a strategy to adopt existing and emerging technologies, provides a clear pathway to achieving zero-carbon performance in the next 10-15 years for all the homes we are constructing.
For Tirion the “pathway to zero-carbon” starts by simply improving the specification of insulation and ensuring our designs can spatially accommodate new and emerging technology in the future. This is supported by a component replacement programme that plans to upgrade heating and electrical systems to zero-carbon technology over the next 10-15 years as existing components require replacement. At its most basic level this means just sufficient cupboard space to allow gas boiler replacement with a “smart” heat pump.
This is an easy decision for Tirion, as a developer and landlord, as it guards against unnecessary and potentially high retrofit costs in the future. We can future proof our homes for just a few hundred pounds per unit and provide a straightforward and commercially viable route to achieving zero-carbon performance by no later than 2035.
For housebuilders that rely on sales rather than rent this should also be a palatable solution and indeed could prove to be a positive selling point as purchasers understand that beyond 2025 gas boilers will no longer be available and an alternative technology will need to be accommodated.
Finally, I should mention that our approach has been developed with Sero Life and if, as an industry, we are to achieve commercially viable zero-carbon homes within a reasonable timescale then it will require close collaboration between developers, energy companies and Government which will be an added benefit arising from a collaborative approach promoted by the Innovative Housing Programme.