This week the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has published his draft environmental strategy for the city, with an ambition for London to be a zero carbon city by 2050, with energy efficient buildings, clean transport and clean energy. He plans a ” low carbon circular economy” in which as much value as possible is extracted from resources, and intends to leverage London’s low carbon and environmental goods and services sector, which in 2014/15 generated £30 billion in sales and employed around 192,000 people. This sector is expected to grow by over 6% per year between now and 2020.

London’s energy plan depends on smart technologies and increased connectivity to make environmental systems, such as energy, water or waste more efficient, and enable Londoners to make better informed, environmentally-sound decisions.

  • smart energy meters to help people reduce their energy use;
  • smart heat networks to increase the efficiency of heat production and use;
  • smart lampposts to charge electric vehicles and supply Wi-Fi and local information.

London energyAccording to the Greater London Authority (“GLA”), London’s population is expected to grow from 8.7 million today to 11.1 million by 2050. Almost 75% of the energy used in London’s homes is for heating and hot water, with the overwhelming majority of this being delivered using gas-fired boilers. One in ten electricity substations is approaching full capacity and the redevelopment of large parts of the city will necessitate additional investments in energy generation and distribution. At the same time, a tenth of households currently lives in fuel poverty.

Approximately 80% of the buildings today will still be standing in 2050, the vast majority of which will need to be retrofitted with energy efficiency measures in order to meet the Mayor’s emissions targets. Clean energy systems will be required, which, according to the London energy plan will be dominated by renewable electricity and gas to power the city’s buildings and vehicles.  

Ambitious plans for the de-carbonisation of transport

Diesel vehicles, especially cars and vans are the main source of road transport pollution, but there is no plan for a return to petrol…instead, mode shift to sustainable forms of transport like walking and cycling are preferred: according to the GLA, three quarters of journeys now made by car could be done on foot, by bicycle or by public transport. Any remaining vehicles would be required to transition to zero emission technology:

  • all taxis and private hire vehicles to be zero emission capable by 2033;
  • all TfL buses to be zero emission by 2037;
    • all new double-deck buses will be hybrid, electric or hydrogen from 2018;
    • all double-deck buses in central London will be Euro VI and hybrid by 2019;
    • all TfL buses meet the Euro VI diesel standard for NOx and PM by 2020;
    • all new single-deck buses will be zero emission from 2020;
    • the whole bus fleet will be fully zero emission by 2037 at the latest;
  • all newly registered road vehicles driven in London to be zero emission by 2040;
  • London’s entire transport system to be zero emission by 2050.

Freight is a major contributor to pollution in the capital, with almost all of London’s freight being carried by road, using diesel vehicles. This  accounts for over 10% of PM2.5 emissions and around a fifth of traffic in the capital – in the morning rush hour, freight traffic is around a third of all traffic in central London.

London’s freight movement is inefficient with many deliveries of non-time critical goods taking place at congested times of the day, with vehicles that are often less than half full. As many as two in every three delivery slots are missed leading to repeat trips, adding to congestion and emissions. The Mayor has a target of reducing construction traffic by 5% by 2020, and cutting the number of freight trips during the morning peak by 10% by 2026.

The Mayor also plans to work with central Government and other partners to further the electrification of the rail network, and to reduce the impact of aviation on the city.

London energy

All buildings to be zero-carbon by 2050

As London’s population grows, new buildings will be built to meet the increasing demand for housing, associated facilities such as schools, hospitals and offices. The GLA estimates that 1.3 million new homes and over 10 million square meters of municipal and commercial spaces will be needed by 2050, which will lock in emission patterns for the next 60-120 years. As well as having higher levels of energy efficiency, these buildings will be powered by local and renewable energy sources and systems such as heat networks.

London’s existing stock of buildings have widely varying levels of energy efficiency, reflecting the wide range of ages. Collectively they account for 70% of the city’s energy consumption, at a cost of over £7 billion per year. The Mayor intends the building stock to have zero net emissions by 2050 – some buildings will need to have negative emissions in order to offset emissions from older buildings that cannot be fully adapted.

For existing buildings the Mayor has identified a number of actions that are required to reduce emissions. These include:

  • helping Londoners improve the energy efficiency of their homes and workplaces through technical advice, support and funding;
  • piloting new approaches to retrofitting which make existing homes zero energy and eradicate energy bills;
  • lobbying government for financial support and regulatory change to speed up the retrofitting of homes;
  • support the roll out of smart meters to provide Londoners with the information they need to make better low carbon choices;
  • tendering for the delivery of an energy supply company, aiming to offer fairer energy bills to Londoners as soon as possible; and
  • scrapping of the most polluting boilers from workplaces.

Various schemes including boiler cash-back and scrappage schemes will be implemented to assist homeowners in improving the energy efficiency of their homes, providing technical assistance, support and funding. The public sector will be supported to retrofit their buildings through an improved Energy for Londoners programme, building on the current RE:FIT programme, which will addresses the lack of technical expertise and capacity within many public-sector organisations.

London energy

The London energy plan envisages improved security of supply through higher levels of local energy production. Over 94% of London’s energy is currently sourced from outside the city, and the plan recognises that space constraints will prevent London from being self-sufficient in energy, therefore the wider de-carbonisation plans rely heavily on de-carbonisation of the national electricity grid. 

While plans are in place at the national level to reduce the dependence of the electricity system on fossil fuels, there is no comparable plan in relation to heating. Gas use in London accounts for around half of total energy consumption, most of which is used for heating. 

“By 2030 at the latest the UK government must also confirm its approach for the long-term role of gas to allow for the full de-carbonisation of London’s heating systems by 2050. With a clear view on what the energy content of gas and electricity should be in 2050, this would then allow a minimum 20 year period to move to new zero carbon heat supply.”

Local energy generation and communal heating networks currently supply approximately 6% of London’s energy, a quarter of which is from renewable sources. Electricity demand will grow through the electrification of heating and transport, leading to an increased need for energy storage through hot water cylinders and batteries. 

The Mayor wants to restrict the use of diesel back-up generators in London, which are increasingly running as part of the Short-Term Operating Reserve and other capacity and demand-side response schemes.

Sadiq Khan has attracted criticism from various environmental lobbies for failing to set out plans for a municipal energy company in London – something he had promised in his election manifesto. The Mayor claims that this would be a lengthy and complex undertaking, and that work on the idea continues.

London energy

The London energy plan makes bold statements but lacks detail on delivery

The road-map for the London energy plan is long on ambition but short on detail:

London energy

2050 may seem a long way off, but 33 years is not a long time in which to deliver the scale of change this plan requires. De-carbonisation of the heating and transport sectors in the capital would require major infrastructure developments, which take years if not decades to execute. (The Crossrail project is an excellent case study in the challenges faced by large infrastructure projects in the capital. The scheme originated in the 1943 County of London Plan, but wasn’t approved until 2007. It is expected to open in 2018, roughly 75 years after it was first conceived.)

The road-map itself is full of grand targets but many of the elements are either outside the control of the GLA, relying on central Government decisions, or are based on optimistic assumptions. The idea that 2 years from now all new buildings will be zero carbon does not seem very realistic (note the limits to BIPV described in my previous post), and while the GLA may try to ensure that schemes that don’t meet this requirement are not approved for construction, the urgent need for new housing stock is likely to mean that planning ideals are softened.

If the construction of new zero-emission buildings is likely to be difficult in the near-medium term, the task of retro-fitting existing building stock represents an even larger challenge. Many London properties date back hundreds of years and used construction methods that are incompatible with modern energy efficiency measures. Designing the technical solution for de-carbonising existing buildings will be a highly complex task, and the process is likely to be long and expensive. It is unclear who would be expected to pay for all this, and so without careful consideration, the capital’s property market could find itself in decline.

Significant infrastructure investments would be needed to reflect the increased demand on energy networks both from population growth and de-carbonisation. Electrification of heating and transport will require significant reinforcement of the electricity distribution infrastructure, and use of hydrogen and district heating would have similar requirements for new underground services. Recently Londoners suffered years of disruption as Thames Water undertook a major project to replace Victorian sewers in the capital…projects to extend energy networks can be expected to be at least as disruptive if not more so.

“The challenge will be implementing such an ambitious agenda when so many environmental powers are split between Whitehall, the mayor and individual boroughs. On emissions from construction site machinery for example, the plan recognises that it’s aim to improve enforcement of relevant regulations is hampered by lack of powers. The intention to use GLA Group internal policies and procurement practices to compensate for this makes sense, but will not be the whole answer,”
– Matthew Farrow, director of the Environmental Industries Commission

As a Londoner myself, I take some comfort from the fact that the Mayor’s powers are limited, meaning that there are political as well as practical barriers to delivery of this London energy plan. There are aspects of the wider environmental strategy that have more obvious and immediate benefits for Londoners – particularly the areas around waste disposal, creating and expanding green spaces, and managing noise pollution – the GLA would do better to focus on these and avoid trying to effectively re-build in 3 decades a system that has taken centuries to develop. 

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