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Five sustainability trends for the 2020s: what’s in store for real estate?

Upon entering the 2020s, which some dub ‘a decade for delivery’ to improve sustainability across the board, it is perhaps wise to consider the breakout trends that will carry forward. After all, a new year always inspires new endeavours.  It provides a clean slate to readjust and redeliver, as well as a fresh opportunity to realign and build upon past achievements.

The 2020s may have a lot in store for everyone across the real estate space; so what should we be looking out for?


Net zero heroes

This commitment has been on the lips of government officials and real estate investors alike, marking a significant promise to achieve net zero carbon across the UK by 2050.

In September 2019, 23 of the UK’s leading commercial property owners have signed a commitment launched by the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) to tackle the growing risks of climate change, pledging to decarbonise. Covering over 11,000 properties, this type of agreement is likely to inspire more companies throughout the next decade to also commit time and resource in the fight against climate change.

It is therefore expected that the dynamics behind climate strategy will shift in tow, with awareness of a pressing deadline introducing the need for a new radical mentality for rapid decarbonisation across a vast sector. The path to complete overhaul will not be simple, nor one that can be touched lightly, it will require serious engagement and in effect be one of the most major driving forces for change across the industry. Certainly, one to watch intently and something EVORA is already leading clients through the challenges and opportunities of.


New alignments and disclosure

Recent interest in broader ranging initiatives within the real estate space have been gaining traction in the past several years. These alternative policies are likely to continue to influence the direction of how companies tackle sustainability issues, standing apart from the more prominent examples such as GRESB, LEED and a host of others.

The 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is one such example, acting originally as a framework for nations to engage in improving global sustainability across areas such as environment and energy, equality, health and wellbeing, alongside peace and justice. Five years since their inception, it is the real estate sector which is taking command of the targets put in place, using them to guide investment and strategy for an all-around approach to sustainability. Aligning with the SDGs is rising in popularity, and it is likely that a more open approach could inspire newer players to also play their part, committing time and resource to key targets.

Another key shift beginning to happen in 2020 focuses on the effective disclosure of climate resilience and risk to businesses through alignment with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD). TCFD is a global voluntary disclosure framework launched in 2017 to allow organisations to identify climate risks and opportunities, and ultimately to disclose the financial impact of these in their annual reports. Awareness and mitigation of these risks is necessary to avoid any sudden losses in asset value and the associated impact on the wider investor market. Businesses engaging with this voluntary scheme provide greater transparency for stakeholders, but also gain an advantage when addressing wider strategies by actively moulding the methodologies behind TCFD, as well as gaining a footing ahead of competition for improving capital value. TCFD – based reporting is to become mandatory for PRI signatories from 2020.


Renewables reinvigoration 

Off the back of net zero and related policies put in place by nations across the globe, renewables investment is a key piece of the puzzle to deliver ambitious targets by 2050.

It is no secret that renewables investment has been growing substantially over the previous decade, with total stock of the most widespread small-scale variant in the UK in terms of number and generating capacity (up to 5MW) – solar photovoltaic (PV) – growing from a total supply of just 88 MW in November 2010 to a staggering 13,305 MW in November 2019 according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

This trend is set to continue, and not just for solar, as it is speculated that across the piece the total capacity of non-hydro renewable sources is set to expand by 91% on current values, reaching 80.3 GW by 2030 [1] as shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Installed capacity of non-hydro renewables through time, alongside forecast capacity out to 2030. Source: GlobalData, Power Database
Figure 1 – Installed capacity of non-hydro renewables through time, alongside forecast capacity out to 2030. Source: GlobalData, Power Database

Policy has been a major driver of this initiative in the UK; however, it should not be forgotten that globally the price of renewables has fallen drastically, reaching the lowest point to date making it ripe for investment.

Cost reductions for solar and wind power technologies are set to continue to 2020 and beyond. Current auction and power purchase agreement (PPA) data suggests that by 2020, onshore wind and solar PV will consistently offer less expensive electricity than the least-cost fossil fuel alternative worldwide, according to IRENA [2]. And for the UK as shown in Figure 2, the current expected trajectory for wind technologies is to dip below the cost of gas, closely followed by solar which is expected to reach the same level in the late 2020s if not sooner.

Figure 2 – UK costs (£ per kWh) for various technologies. Source: Carbon Brief, 2019
Figure 2 – UK costs (£ per kWh) for various technologies. Source: Carbon Brief, 2019

With costs expected to fall, the integration of renewables will become easier and the investment more worthwhile as payoff times also decrease. This is despite the removal of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme in March 2019, however commercial contracted energy still proves to pull in promising numbers for those willing to invest in generation. Furthermore, the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG), a partial replacement for the FiT, came into force on the 1st January 2020 setting an obligation for licensed electricity suppliers to offer a tariff and make payment to small-scale low-carbon generators for electricity exported to the National Grid.

This could provide a valuable route to market for businesses wishing to put money aside for renewables, serving to cut electricity costs due to self-generation, but also providing the opportunity to export and earn money by supplying back to the grid.

Furthermore, the benefits for businesses from Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (CPPAs), specialised agreements for the supply of energy to specific sites or assets from a generator, have also grown in recent years. This differs from the standard green tariff opportunities presented by utilities, as energy is directly sourced from a known generation site which in turn spurs the delivery of greater grid investment into private energy sources as significant hurdles for generators are bypassed. Engaging in this market has proved to be a reliable means of utilising renewable energy over short term (6 month) to as long as 15-year contracts relatively inexpensively, alongside proving a positive look for companies to boot.

Who knows, perhaps this could grow into something larger? The prospect of peer-to-peer trading of energy or smart grids to efficiently serve grouped assets could also take off from greater private investment; effectively lighting the fuse for a more sustainable real estate sector, and aiding the push of ambitious policies to grow the market.


Grand designs

Changing up building management and design is also a crucial factor to consider, in order to provide more efficient, healthier and happier buildings for tenants to grow their businesses in.

One example of how legislation is progressing this scene is the recent Minimum Energy Efficient Standards (MEES) for non-domestic commercial buildings strategy, published on the 15th October 2019 by BEIS, which we reported on last year.

Under the consultation, the government propose a new plan to raise the minimum EPC rating from ‘E’ to ‘B’ by 2030. In order to achieve this, a great deal of investment will be necessary, as an estimated 85% of non-commercial buildings will require improvements to meet these standards.

Improving new build design is a clear route to achieving this across portfolios, by integrating more passive design choices, smart technologies and more controllable systems for fundamentals like HVAC systems and lighting. These include such changes as tighter building fabrics to help reduce heat loss in the building, double glazed windows as well as greater exploitation of sunlight with Passivhaus like architecture. Not only will this reduce energy usage and as a result improve the returns from markets such as the SEG for renewables, it will also result in a more comfortable space for tenants to work in, improving wellbeing from the get-go. Furthermore, buildings can also engage in improving other factors such as the integration of biodiversity into building design with green walls and roof gardens alongside open planted plazas that not only serve as refuges for wildlife but for pleasant places for employees to enjoy for increased social value.

However, this is easier said than done, as the vast majority of buildings which will be used in the commercial space have already been built. Therefore, a great deal of effort will need to be focused on deep retrofitting to bring buildings up to scratch, allowing them to stay competitive and sustainable for years to come.


Big data for bigger change

At the heart of spurring the aforementioned changes is our understanding of the ongoing trends, causes and solutions to issues at hand; and how is that really possible without proper evidence?

As the world mobilises towards an ever more data-centric model to drive cost analyses, environmental modelling and of course the progress of sustainability, appropriate levels of data access are necessary to implement effective and lasting change. Therefore, a growing need for data coverage and reporting will likely manifest throughout the 2020s, improving the understanding of where and when energy is being consumed across a portfolio to identify, implement and track improvements.

The key to engaging here is being proactive about monitoring how businesses run and how properties are managed. An example includes the continued smart meter rollout which showed promise earlier in the 2010s, however, it has fallen short of what is required as the original deadline of 2020 is pushed back to 2024. Therefore, big data companies and real estate investors may begin to invest more heavily in their own solutions to provide better coverage of how assets perform. Furthermore, by partnering more closely this could prove to be more productive than just face value cost reductions.

By engaging with tenants directly to shape their ‘energy behaviour’ from a top-down policy and technologically driven view, visible and accessible evidence of energy usage can itself inspire change from the bottom up, with tenants altering how they perceive energy usage and the impacts of their day to day. Attacking from both ends in this way may prove an effective weapon.

Big data also stretches to the social issues that real estate faces on an ongoing basis, after all, people drive business. More widespread and granular coverage of social value, health and well being among other strategies could help change the perception of how usually qualitative analyses is treated, providing quantitative means to expand the efficiency of implementing changes into businesses.

EVORA will, of course, examine the growth of these trends (as well as many more) throughout the year, as we expect a great deal of exciting activity is upcoming. So, watch this space!


Data Sources:

[1]  https://www.power-technology.com/comment/uk-renewable-outlook/

[2] https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2019/May/IRENA_Renewable-Power-Generations-Costs-in-2018.pdf

Don’t forget to renew your heat network registrations.

Under the Heat Network (Metering and Billing) Regulations 2014; organisations must ensure that heat networks remain registered.  There is a requirement to renew every 4 years. For most organisations this deadline will be 31 December 2019.

About the Heat Network Regulations

A heat supplier obligated under the regulations is defined as a person (or organisation) who supplies and charges for the supply of heating, cooling or hot water to a final customer, through either communal heating or a district heating network.

Whoever is supplying the end user with heat is classed as a heat supplier. This includes the supply of heat as part of a package – i.e. through a service contract. The contract does not need to explicitly mention the supply of heat. Shared / multi-let offices and shopping centres where heating and/or chilled water is provided to more than one tenant in a building are identified as obligated examples within the guidance document.

Requirements

Heat suppliers were required to notify the National Measurement Office of the existence of heat networks every four years.  In most cases, the deadline will be 31st December 2019.

Regulatory Update

The regulations also include requirements to complete cost effectiveness calculations for installation of heat meters.  The cost effectiveness tool is currently being revised by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Therefore, pending the revision of the tool it is advised that no further assessments should be undertaken.

“The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has confirmed that it would not be appropriate for them (the FCA) to impose fines or other disciplinary measures in respect of a breach of the requirement within the heat network (metering and billing) regulations 2014 (as amended), that certain heat suppliers must test whether it is cost-effective to fit heat meters in multi-occupancy buildings, and where appropriate, fit them by 31 December 2016.”

“Furthermore, it is unlikely that the FCA would take other regulatory action (where a heat supplier was separately regulated by the FCA) if the only non-compliance was in relation to the requirement to test for and fit meters where cost effective. As such, it is not considered necessary for a heat supplier to inform the FCA if it has been unable to meet this requirement.”

Questions? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Does the UK’s net zero future need the EU ETS?

The 2008 Climate Change Act already commits the UK to an 80% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2050. However, the unwritten long-term target hopefully is, or at least should be, to achieve complete carbon neutrality.


Since its inception in 2005, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) has been Europe’s flagship climate policy. It has two stated aims, namely:

  • To reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an economically efficient manner.
  • To promote investment in low-carbon technologies and energy efficiency improvements.

Approximately 15400 installations, accounting for around 45% of EU greenhouse gas emissions, are now covered by the Scheme, over 1000 of which are in the UK. However, with the Brexit negotiations looming, the UK’s place in the EU ETS is under threat.

As an EU member, the UK is currently subject to the Emissions Trading Directive, but this is unlikely to be the case by the end of the negotiation process as such a position is not compatible with the incumbent government’s Brexit rhetoric of removing European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisprudence.

The only obvious option for the UK to remain involved in the EU ETS, whilst avoiding ECJ jurisprudence, would be to create a UK ETS and then negotiate a unilateral or bilateral linkage. Switzerland has been undergoing just such a process over the past decade, culminating in a technical-level agreement in January 2016 that is awaiting ratification.

Before beginning to debate how a UK-EU ETS relationship should be formed however, the question that we should be asking first is: is it worth it?


This seemingly simple question has a rather more complex answer. The UK economy is large enough to have an emissions trading scheme of its own, however being part of a larger trading scheme with more participants carries efficiency benefits, through increasing the volume of available low-cost abatement options and through increasing market liquidity and stability.

What is not clear is the extent to which the UK receives these benefits. Given that the EU ETS is now in its twelfth compliance cycle, there seems to be remarkably little research into the extent of the benefits the Scheme produces. With the March 2019 Brexit negotiation deadline fast approaching, the Government should give serious consideration to commissioning such a study for the UK.

The EU ETS is also far from perfect which, to be fair, is to be expected given that it was the first, and continues to be the largest, emissions trading scheme in the world. The large surplus of allowances, a lingering remnant of the 2008 financial crisis, and the persistently low and unstable allowance price are the stand out issues, and add up to mean the EU ETS is not functioning as well as it could.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The majority of the EU ETS’ regulatory design features could be replicated in an independent UK ETS” quote=”The majority of the EU ETS’ regulatory design features could simply be replicated in an independent UK ETS”]

If the UK Government wishes, the majority of the EU ETS’ regulatory design features could simply be replicated in an independent UK ETS. Therefore, the decision of whether to remain involved in the Scheme boils down to weighing the aforementioned economic efficiency benefits against the issues the EU ETS is facing and the challenges of negotiating an acceptable linkage deal for both parties.


The UK business community should seek to take greater ownership of this issue, firstly by pushing the Government to conduct the necessary research to make this decision properly, and secondly by each firm reflecting themselves on what the EU ETS does or does not do for them in the pursuit of carbon neutrality. As the global threat of climate change grows, stricter environmental regulations are inevitable, but high costs don’t have to be. Emissions trading schemes are a proven mechanism for producing low-cost emissions abatement, but to get the most out of them they must have the right design. Is the EU ETS right for the UK? This is something we need to work out.

This blog was originally published on Edie.net

Net Zero and carbon reduction targets: To what extent will it help us achieve them?

This blog is part of our Net Zero series for World Green Building Week 2017 – read more here.


The UK target of Net Zero Buildings (NZB) means that new buildings and major renovations should have a net zero impact on carbon emissions from 2030 onwards. This sets the tone for our buildings of the future but what does this mean for our existing buildings? Projections are that half of the existing building stock will still be around in 2050. Even at a reasonable rate of major renovations this still leaves the property industry with its work cut out.

Policies such as the MEES regulations should definitely help to improve efficiencies in existing buildings through refurbishment works and upgrades to take building spaces up to E rating or better. The MEES regulations have undoubtedly got more companies thinking about cost-effective improvements to commercial properties. However, one of my gripes with the whole EPC scheme is that the rating approach is based on theoretical design performance –  the elephant in the room of course being that actual energy consumed doesn’t feature at all.

This means that it’s entirely possible to have a good EPC score on an office and it still be energy inefficient. This is something I wrote about a few years ago with the Better Buildings Partnership and found it was not an isolated example. Furthermore, there are certain types of energy use not captured by EPCs which only potentially complicates the problem. Let’s not forget that addressing actual energy usage is fundamental to succeeding in meeting national and international carbon reduction targets.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Let’s not forget addressing actual energy usage is fundamental to meeting carbon reduction targets.” quote=”Let’s not forget that addressing actual energy usage is fundamental to succeeding in meeting national and international carbon reduction targets.”]

This discrepancy between design intent and actual energy usage has been written about extensively under the banner of a concept most of you will hopefully be familiar with – the ‘performance gap’. Studies suggest that this difference between how we think buildings perform and how they actually perform could be underestimated by as much as 50%.

This brings me to one of my main points. Of course, actual energy consumed is significant but so too is the source of that energy; if energy is consumed we need it to be from renewable or ideally carbon neutral sources. Therefore, yes energy efficiency needs to be addressed but so too does the decarbonisation of those supplies.


Decarbonisation targets are likely to be missed, so what does this mean?

The UK Government has targets to improve the decarbonisation of grid energy supplies but research suggests that this is likely to be missed. Also, with the Government limiting financial support for certain types of renewables, investors are hardly getting the certainty that would really help to boost the market. We’ve seen a number of renewables/solar companies going into liquidation, however, demand on the whole for onsite renewables seems to be maintaining (?)

Clearly, in addition to the grid energy mix there’s a role for decentralised green energy generation. Two trends which will be significant in terms of the overall trajectory of the energy sector are the decentralisation of energy generation and energy storage. These are predicted to both increase rapidly.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Two trends which will be significant are the decentralisation of energy generation and energy storage. ” quote=”Two trends which will be significant are the decentralisation of energy generation and energy storage. “]

So what does this all mean for strategies of property owners and investors? Clearly, there’s a business case for investment in energy efficiency because of the financial impact of operating costs. As a proportion of overall costs of occupation, this can be hugely variable depending on the organisation, but can relate to factors such as the regional location of property as an example. Nonetheless, DEFRA/DECCs energy price forecasts are that they will continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation so the costs are not going to reduce. Overtime, the cost of renewable energy should become more competitive but there’s little sense in consuming green energy profligately. This means that the property industry really needs to make decarbonisation of energy in existing property portfolios part of its strategy.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The property industry needs to make decarbonisation of energy in existing property portfolios part of its strategy.” quote=”This means the property industry really needs to make decarbonisation of energy in existing property portfolios part of its strategy.”]

As my colleague, Paul Sutcliffe,  has said Science Based Targets is an approach that is gaining more momentum and rightly so. However, what’s fundamental to achieving the carbon reductions required is an honest assessment of what can realistically be delivered, at the industry-level, through building efficiency and what will be achieved through greening energy supplies.


To speak to the EVORA team about how we can help your organisation, please contact us.

Net Zero and Science Based Targets – Connecting the Dots

This blog is part of our Net Zero series for World Green Building Week 2017 – read more here.


I was recently asked how Science Based Targets are connected to Zero Carbon Buildings – hmmm, I thought, interesting question.

Let’s start with the definitions.


Science Based Targets

In response to mounting environmental, social and political pressure, organisations have recently begun setting science-based GHG emissions reduction targets (‘science based targets’ or SBTs). In doing this, companies are committing to bringing their operational activities and resultant emissions in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increases below 2oC compared to pre-industrial temperatures. Optional third-party approval of alignment to approved methodologies is managed by www.sciencebasedtargets.org, which is supported by the WWF, CDP, UNGC and the WRI.

The SBT approach is being adopted by companies across multiple sectors as the basis for setting long-term goals for GHG emissions reductions. Importantly, in the long-term the SBT approach may be adjusted to reflect advances of climate science and economic modelling (e.g. to target a 1.5oC increase in global mean temperatures).

[clickToTweet tweet=”A SBT approach may be adjusted to reflect advances of climate science and economic modelling” quote=”A SBT approach may be adjusted to reflect advances of climate science and economic modelling”]

Net Zero Buildings

Net zero buildings are highly energy-efficient buildings which uses on or off-site renewable energy sources – to achieve net zero carbon emissions. This definition encompasses all asset classes:  homes, offices, shops, stadiums and theatres of the future.

WorldGBC support the ‘Advancing Net Zero’ project – its aims are to ensure that:

  • All new buildings and major renovations should be net zero starting in 2030, meaning no buildings should be built below net zero standards beyond 2030. All buildings should be net zero by 2050
  • 75,000 professionals are trained on net zero building design and operation by 2030, and 300,000 by 2050.

Laudable – and I can see the 2030 target working with a combination of innovation, creativity and targeted regulation (a carrot and stick approach).  However, the aspiration to ensure that all buildings are net zero by 2050 if a big one.  We are less than 33 years away from this deadline and buildings are designed with much longer life-spans.  The speed of conversion and renovation must therefore increase significantly.  In the UK, Minimum Energy Efficiency (MEES) legislation will ban the leasing of buildings with F and G ratings from 2018.  However, net zero buildings have EPCs of A+ not D.  So, in short, at least in the UK, there is a long way to go.


The Connection?

I believe in SBTs – they require that organisational carbon targets are set in line with the global context and can be all encompassing, covering operational, supply chain and even embodied carbon emissions. However, it should be noted that at least for commercial property, the SBT approach doesn’t actually require that all properties become zero carbon by 2050; rather, a minimal level of carbon emissions performance must be achieved (e.g. ~13kgCOe/m2 by 2050).

As such, a science based target is actually – relatively speaking – less stretching than a net zero building.

Furthermore, science based targets are set at the fund, portfolio or even company level, whereas the net zero buildings agenda is targeting all buildings. SBTS are therefore more flexible.  SBTs can be met based on the average performance of a portfolio, with some inefficient and other efficient assets, which on balance are in line with a 2oC world.

In my opinion though, net zero buildings are a very worthy aspiration and will support any organisation in its aim to achieve performance in line with internationally agreed emissions targets. Certainly for new builds, I think we should be targeting net zero carbon. For existing assets, the challenge is substantial; however, one that we as an industry should be grabbing with both hands.

Net zero buildings are a very worthy aspiration and will support any organisation in its aim to achieve performance in line with internationally agreed emissions targets.

We need a joined-up approach, supported and incentivised by Government, as refurbishing all existing assets is a massive job and should be considered as a national infrastructure project.  However, delivery will ultimately need to be managed by both Government and Business working in partnership.

[clickToTweet tweet=”For existing assets, the challenge is substantial; however, one that we should be grabbing with both hands.” quote=”For existing assets, the challenge is substantial; however, one that we as an industry should be grabbing with both hands.”]

We need:

  • A strong approach from Government– balancing regulation with incentivisation
  • Visionaries – organisations prepared to lead, to continue to progress the sustainability agenda
  • Communication and voice – organisations like the WorldGBC,  UK-GBC and the Better Buildings Partnership to promote and
  • Adoption

Now, as they say, ‘that’s a big ask’.

However, so much [read everything] is at stake

Come on Property Industry – let’s take the lead!