Solving The Energy Crisis? Or, As An Architect, At Least Looking Ahead

Issue 79

I am not political, and my articles are not intended to be so. However, as an architect I want to use my expertise and skill in design and buildings to help guide those that can make changes.

I have recently been trying to get a smart meter fitted to my home which has three phase electricity, powering my heat pumps and PV array. Getting the meter has not been easy but that is another story!

The accompanying leaflet from the energy company featuring a coloured sea monster, explains how to turn everything down but only has a passing reference to the building fabric. I find it amazing, that in 2022 we are telling people to simply turn off their power, but not to think how their houses can be improved.

I have written before in Northern Insight about energy efficiency, grants, VAT and heating systems options, but surely now is the time to look again. The chancellor Mr Sunak has recently altered VAT on heat pumps, insulation, and PV to 5% but not altered the tax on storage batteries. So, a person investing in home batteries will pay 20% whilst they can still buy coal with 5% tax – it does not seem logical to me. If everyone with existing PV panels could install batteries to store their electricity, they could be virtually off gird.

We need to see zero VAT on home energy improvements across the board to encourage everyone to improve the thermal performance of their homes, which will then reduce energy consumption, without people tuning off heat for longer periods.

If all our buildings use less energy, we put less demand on the region and country for energy demand, which must be a good thing in the long term with such volatility abroad in importing oil and gas.

How this helps people in the short term is extremely difficult to see. As energy prices go up this invariably hurts the poorest members of society as they have a greater proportion of spend on their energy and basic food requirements. Here in the North East, we still have challenging areas that require help. The awful truth is that people who can’t afford the home improvements are those that need it the most.

So as an architect I believe we really must look to make sure that future houses, at whatever level, are built to the improved performance levels. The energy efficiency of new social housing must be made much higher so that our elderly and those living in social housing not only use less energy but may find they have absolutely no heating costs. Planning authorities should grant permission for innovative designs where technology is engineered into the design of new houses and not just bolted on as an afterthought.

We need to see greater innovation and experimentation in one-off houses to evaluate new technologies and ideas. It is only by building test bed designs and designers experimenting with technologies that we will we be able to assess what works for all housing.

The architecture, building and planning process can really assist the future. I just hope we can help people today through this difficult period.

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