Mind the Gap – evaluating the performance of renewable requirements

The shocking under-performance of biomass boilers uncovered in a recent DECC report epitomises a failure to deliver environmental performance as promised at design. Two questions posed to the construction industry are:

  • How can under-performance be addressed? and,
  • What policies should the industry promote to improve delivery?

The DECC report triggered the headline ‘Green’ biomass boilers may waste billions in public money, as the average installed boiler

efficiency was 66.5% while to be classed as a renewable technology the efficiency of a biomass boiler must be 85%. The report was instigated to review the performance standards of biomass installations which had applied and received the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the RHI being a renewable subsidy scheme to improve the economic viability of these technologies.

Within the report a key, and damning, finding is that ‘almost all the serious problems were rooted in poor planning and design, and inadequate expert advice’.

We welcome the main recommendation that under-performance can be avoided through education and standardisation. However, we would recommend that DECC assess whether the application of outdated planning policies acted as drivers for the use of biomass boilers, where biomass boilers were not suitable for building designs but added to achieve a nominal percentage emissions reduction or energy provision.

Adopting a policy that 10% or 20% of building energy needs be met by renewables, forces projects to design around a renewable technology rather than with a more flexible methodology, such as the energy hierarchy.

The unintended consequences of an ideological approach to planning policy is that design options are forced into buildings as an afterthought and while raising environmental standards is critical for the industry it shouldn’t be at the expense of worse in-use building performance. What will be interesting is how local authorities set their planning policies in the wake of new national policy (triggered by the Deregulation Bill and Housing Standards Review) and whether the recommendations of the DECC report will be accepted.

If you would like to hear more about these issues or discuss a particular project then please contact Iain Fraser on 0203 544 3998 (iain.fraser@greengage-env.com).


Image from The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/14/green-biomass-boilers-may-waste-billions-public-money