Radical action required for NI to meet energy performance targets

27/01/2021

A research report commissioned and published by the Department for the Economy has revealed that a dramatic shift in regional policies and funding levels will be needed for Northern Ireland to align building energy performance with the UK’s net zero carbon emission commitments. The report estimates the total capital expenditure across the economy required, for non-domestic and domestic buildings combined to be £6.4 billion over 27 years (in today’s prices) or approximately £236 million per year.

In order to meet the UK’s 2050 net zero commitments, the report indicates that Northern Ireland will need to retrofit significantly more buildings and do so a much higher standard than is currently the case. The report estimates that policies would need to drive an annual peak of retrofits for over 50,000 buildings within the next decade, up from the current retrofit levels of 16,500.

The Minister for the Department for the Economy, Diane Dodds MLA, recognises the potential benefits of investing in retrofit which include “warmer and drier homes in winter, improved physical and mental wellbeing and, in turn, reduced demand on our health and social care sector”.

To help achieve these challenging improvements, the report makes a number of recommendations:

  1. Set obligatory ‘minimum energy efficiency standards’ for buildings.
  2. Develop a range of financial incentives to support energy efficiency activity.
  3. Establish a programme for delivery of retrofit measures.
  4. Establish a ‘one-stop shop’ to support consumer energy efficiency decision-making and oversee the end-to-end supply chain.
  5. Set clear targets for energy efficiency improvements.
  6. Establish a local pilot to support the development of new technical skills in the local energy efficiency sector and test a local accreditation scheme to ensure delivery standards are high.

Commenting on the report, Director of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects, Ciarán Fox said:

“This report marks an important milestone in Northern Ireland’s journey toward net zero as it clearly establishes the enormity of the challenge with regard to reducing energy consumption. We fully agree with the conclusion that what is needed is a dramatic shift in the scale and pace of the roll out of energy efficiency measures in this region. Radically improving the energy performance of our existing buildings will play a central role in reducing carbon emissions and it is important that policies are now quickly progressed to facilitate this. 

Whilst addressing the energy performance of existing buildings will have a greater impact due to the volume, new buildings are also important and in this regard the Northern Ireland Executive can take action today to address the gulf between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A typical new build semi-detached house built today to Northern Ireland’s standards will use more than double the annual energy than the same house type in the Republic of Ireland.   We have been assured that higher energy performance requirements are imminent but despite repeated requests the Finance Minister has not provided a date by which a draft of the new requirements will be published. We once again call on the Minister to take this action immediately.”

“We look forward to reviewing the detail of today’s report and we will continue to engage with the NI Executive to help ensure that the built environment plays its role in meeting the net zero challenge.”

The full report can be read here.