Public sector steps up to net zero challenge

It is now widely accepted that we need to adopt new ways of thinking if Scotland is to reach its net zero goals by 2045. Not only that, but the buildings in which we work and live must also adapt. Here, Graham Collie, technical support manager at SPA, explores some of the innovative ways its public sector partners are working to meet net zero in their housing stock, and how taking a flexible approach to procurement can help.

Challenges, but also opportunities

Scotland’s buildings account for 23% of the country’s total carbon emissions so decarbonising them would be an essential ‘quick win’ for the Scottish Government so it can achieve its ambitious net zero goal. And while this undoubtedly presents challenges, it also comes with fresh opportunities.

Innovation at a level never seen before will be needed as the cost to convert the Scottish building stock alone is £33 billion. The public purse cannot sustain that cost without the help of the private sector. This presents several opportunities for Scottish and UK wide companies to provide solutions to the public sector.

The first of its kind

SPA represents some 100 plus Scottish public sector partner organisations, and is seeing some exciting examples of innovation in action.

Cairn Housing Association, for example, is about to embark on a pilot project in Wick to refurbish two properties to the Enerphit standard for retrofit properties. Enerphit allows for more flexibility compared to the traditional Passivhaus standard to accommodate retrofitting challenges, but still achieves CO2 savings of between 75 and 90%.

The two properties are traditional two and three-bedroom terraces in Wick. Each property will be fitted with commonplace measures such as external wall insulation, cavity wall insulation and triple-glazed windows and doors.

The new innovative measures include an air source heat pump, which will replace the energy intensive storage heaters, photovoltaic panels, and a battery storage system.

To ensure air quality is maintained, a decentralised mechanical ventilation system will also be retrofitted.

This whole-house retrofit will transform the tenants’ quality of life. Early indications are that their current £50 a week spend on energy should drop to £10 a month once the renovations have been completed. In the age of surging energy prices this will ensure protection from fuel poverty. If successful, this project is likely to change the way the housing association renovates in the future.

The housing association is also carrying out a second project at a retirement development in Blairgowrie to install ground source heat pumps, triple glazing and PV panels with batteries in 35 sheltered housing properties. Once completed it is expected to halve energy bills for the tenants.

Mathilde Macdonald, property investment officer for Cairn Housing Association, feels that exploring leading edge construction methods is now essential for public sector bodies in Scotland: “Time is running out for us to meet our net zero goals and fuel poverty is worsening,” she said. “Without innovation, it will be an impossible goal.”

Innovation needs to start from day one

Often the greatest opportunities for original ideas are seen during the initial concept phase of a project, but unfortunately, business-as-usual procurement methods can be a barrier to them being put forward.

Adopting frameworks as the preferred method of procurement can be the first step towards innovation. SPA provides free of charge ‘added value’ services to help partners of all sizes work together with the very best expertise in the industry.

Our in-house team includes procurement and technical staff that previously worked in local authorities and housing associations.

We are therefore uniquely aware of the challenges that the public sector faces. Suppliers on our frameworks have been pre-approved technically and financially, which allows the focus to be directed onto assessing their capability for innovative problem solving.

Through pre-tender engagement, we split the frameworks into many smaller lots which, as well as making it possible to use smaller, local suppliers, also invites specialist suppliers who can bring new and fresh ideas to the table.

Testing cutting edge construction

Using a framework meant peace of mind for Eildon Housing Association in testing cutting edge construction methods at its Springfield Place development, in the Scottish Borders village of St Boswells. Here, a trio of Passivhaus homes were designed and built to reduce fuel bills, generally using 90% less energy for heating and hot water than standard buildings, while carrying very low running costs.

The project, procured using our New Build Housing Construction (H1) framework, arrived before Eildon’s green pilot, where up to 45 new green homes will be built using different methods.

Development officer James Renwick explained: “Building a Passivhaus development was a new challenge for us – it’s a rigorous standard.

“Procuring the project through a framework meant we were able to work with a contractor and design team we had used on a previous Passivhaus development who we were confident could deliver.”

Shared knowledge

As an organisation, we have found that our public sector partners are wholeheartedly behind the drive towards net zero in Scotland. With the right policies and funding strategies behind them, and opportunity to learn from each others’ successes and failures and build networks of support, they can play a key role in helping Scotland look forward to a greener, healthier future.

With the hope of further normality in 2022, we will look to host in-person events with these innovative suppliers.

Showcasing and sharing knowledge is the key to fulfilling our net zero challenges over the years to come and we will ensure it provides the support to all stakeholders to ensure we meet this challenge.

Eildon HA, Springfield Place
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