Decarbonising social housing stock: steps to prioritise net zero carbon investment

The social housing sector is facing a monumental decarbonisation challenge. And not all of it can be tackled at once. So, with it comes the big question – how to prioritise investment? Chris Lavery, Director of Programme Management, discusses the steps social housing providers can take to identify the optimum, most cost-effective approach to meet net zero carbon targets.

The Government has expressed its desire for social housing to be a flag bearer for energy efficiency and carbon reduction standards. And keen to take on the challenge, the sector has recognised the significance of its role and the contribution it must make to decarbonising the UK’s housing stock.  

This will, however, require significant change on the part of social housing providers. A mixture of deep retrofit for existing social housing and raising the energy efficiency standard of all new builds will be needed to achieve net zero carbon by 2050.

Additional targeted support from government and proposals from the industry will enable social landlords to carry out the combination of measures required.

But how to identify the right combination of retrofit versus building new? How do you prioritise investment? And where is the carbon cost tipping point in favour of divestment?  

This is where we come in. Working in partnership, we help our clients identify the optimum, most cost-effective approach to meet net zero carbon targets. We give our clients confidence in the face of uncertainty: making sure costs are proportionate to any remediation work and associated carbon reduction and that works deliver a lasting benefit that aligns to the overall goal of achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

Retrofit or divest and rebuild? What’s the quickest carbon payback and most cost-effective route?

Designed to help owners of large property portfolios prioritise net zero carbon investment, our Net Zero Carbon Toolkit retrofit assessment toolkit helps identify how to balance costs against realised benefits and prioritise expenditure

Using archetype data sets that cover the full range of stock types, attributes, and conditions, the tool provides a cost benefit summary which compares the various retrofit options and highlights the most efficient solution.

The method to identify the best scenario for new and existing buildings can be divided into four key stages:

  1. Gap analysis – by reviewing the current and historic energy data, we assess the difference between actual performance, expected performance and target performance, in relation to net zero carbon. This will distinguish the present and target state at an operational level.
  2. Establish a carbon footprint – we use the archetype data and carbon methodology to provide a baseline present and future carbon footprint (minus carbon reduction interventions), against which scenarios for reduction can be calculated.
  3. Scope a carbon reduction strategy – the energy saving options are reviewed, along with performance standards that could be achieved for existing and new buildings. From here, operational carbon savings can be calculated, and a comparison made between the embodied carbon associated with retrofitting, or new build. This provides data that can be used to identify the optimum strategy. Focusing on absolute carbon savings potential, this involves a payback period for operational reductions to exceed the embodied carbon invested, and cost effectiveness of interventions per tonne of carbon saved.
  4. Identify the optimum scenario – by following these steps we can identify the optimum scenario(s) and provide a representative example for your housing stock. The following factors are considered: total carbon savings and net zero compatibility, cost effectiveness of savings, and practical and programme management considerations for the works.

Many Housing Associations have set Net Zero Carbon as a key strategic priority. But how to balance ambition with what is achievable, and by when, remains the key question. And so setting realistic and affordable targets will be essential and prioritising investment is the key to long-term success.

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As strategic asset management partners, and leading net zero carbon consultants, we’re here to help tackle that complexity, prioritise investment and identify solutions to meet Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) targets by 2030 and net zero carbon by 2050.

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