National Risk Assessment 2017: Response 2: The value of 'Negawatts' and preserving heritage

I am very struck that Section 4.2 - 4.4 in 'National Risk Assessment 2017' refer to energy and infrastructure and housing but not to energy-efficiency & its complex relationship with heritage. The Irish Government's National Risk Assessment 2017 can be found here: <>. (As architect of Ireland's first certified super-low energy retrofit of a building (the Monkstown EnerPHit) and manager in a school of architecture (DIT) that is implementing cutting edge educational programmes in super-low energy buildings and retrofit for fully-employed building design professionals (delivered though blended learning in recognition of their busy lives), I have significant experience and resources in the why and how to implement energy efficiency measures.) At the end of a range of long 'pipelines' Ireland is very vulnerable to energy shocks: equally upgrading our energy generation supply systems to handle large scale renewable energy systems is expensive and not universally popular. It is an under-recognised truism that the best energy use is no energy use (i.e. Negawatts). Large scale, deep retrofit of large areas of our cities and towns would greatly reduce the nation's dependence on old energy sources (such as fossil fuel) and new sources (such as large scale wind or solar power). The more invested in large scale, deep energy efficiency, the smaller the energy flows in our grid can be, the fewer wind farms and gas inter-connectors will be needed. Not only that but the more energy-efficient our society becomes the greater proportion of our energy will be supplied by the existing infrastructure of wind turbines etc. Architect David Hughes has written and spoken very well on this subject. He claims the level of energy efficiency we can implement through super-low energy retrofit and new builds would be equivalent to "A Corrib-gas field worth of energy every six years" or "three Ardnacrusha generating stations every three years" (ref: <>). The measures one should always promote first should be 'dumb', robust, easy to use and long-lasting. Well designed, well-installed changes to building fabric can have a lifespan ranging from 20 to 50 years, whereas new services (e.g. heating systems, lighting, ventilation, solar panels etc) generally have a 7 to 10 year lifespan with increasing maintenance approaching that end. Unfortunately unlike many central European countries, our cities do not have streets of 3-4 storey high terraced apartment buildings that make large scale retrofit so easy and so cost efficient, but we do have some building types that support low cost large scale works. It should be noted that what happened at Grenfell Tower represents the failure to control the whole retrofit procurement system - where the paper exercise of saving carbon units and screwing down costs became more important than longevity, quality and people's lives. There is no excuse for what happened. However reflecting back to my first response energy efficiency must be a shared cultural response, not just a technical fix. There are large areas of existing built communities and many exceptions where large scale and/or deep energy retrofit aren't appropriate. We need to identify as a society where we will make our 'Negawatt' gains and where reasonable levels of energy efficiency married with preservation and celebration of the heritage value of the local built environment are more appropriate. This requires a sophisticated understanding of what is of value nationally and locally, with clear policies enacted to optimise energy efficiency and ALSO social resilience. 


Sunday, July 16, 2017

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