Scaling up retrofit for net zero

Now is the moment to create a national market for industrialised retrofit, says Richard McWilliams

The government’s recent launch of £3bn worth of schemes to help retrofit buildings is a welcome acknowledgment of the climate emergency, the challenge of meeting our net zero targets, and the need to drive economic recovery. 

Nonetheless, the focus on job creation, via direct funding for retrofit measures, could undermine the long-term market for industrialised retrofit. Britain has Europe’s oldest housing stock and 80% of buildings that need to achieve net zero have already been built. Retrofit on this scale is not currently within the capacity of the market.

The pandemic provided a unique opportunity to reset the economy and spearhead a green recovery. This will not be achieved under the government’s current policy for residential property, which focuses on loft and wall insulation, new windows or boilers, and one-off heat pumps within ageing buildings. Piecemeal measures like this only scratch the surface. 

Instead, we need to create a market for industrialised retrofit that delivers guaranteed performance based on outcomes including warmth, hot water and the wellbeing of occupiers. This can then be packaged up as an investable proposition, creating a long-term funding mechanism with a contractual agreement to deliver homes and buildings that are energy efficient.

This model has already been demonstrated in the UK. In London, Turner & Townsend is the lead delivery partner for the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Retrofit Accelerator programmes, which have enabled investment in homes and workplaces for over a decade. 

The new Innovation Partnership, for whole-house retrofit, will bring together the GLA, housing providers and suppliers to develop innovative solutions that make an economic price point achievable for performance-assured net zero retrofit. Such a strategy, if rolled out nationwide, requires a local network of contractors and manufacturers. This creates an early-mover advantage for regional authorities looking to build their green economies through long-term jobs that deliver and maintain retrofitted buildings.

This model could give a £400bn-600bn domestic market, with the potential to export the UK’s knowledge and expertise. With national and local government support, there is real scope to create a supply chain for industrial retrofit at scale. 

Richard McWilliams is director, sustainability at Turner & Townsend

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