British property leaders back solar roofs mandate in net-zero transition

Nine in 10 senior professionals in the UK’s property sector do not think current policy interventions are sufficient to enable the transition to net-zero by 2050, with widespread support for measures to accelerate renewable energy deployment and streamline emissions reporting.

British property leaders back solar roofs mandate in net-zero transition

Pictured: Solar panels on the roof of Brakes Foodservice's depot in Harlow. Image: Brakes

These are the headline findings of a survey jointly conducted by trade body the British Property Federation and JLL. The results of the survey, which polled 71 senior leaders at 45 organisations, have been published this week.

The majority of respondents, nine in ten, believe that the sector will not reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – the Government’s legally binding deadline for delivering a net-zero economy.

This is perhaps to be expected. The Climate Change Committee’s most recent annual progress report to Parliament confirmed that policymaking in virtually all sectors is not sufficient to deliver net-zero within legally binding target parameters. The Committee highlighted buildings as a particular point of green policy weakness, largely due to poor action to improve energy efficiency and scale-up low-carbon heating options.

The report from the BPF sets out a string of interventions the sector would like to see from the Government in order for companies to reach their own net-zero targets – many of which are more ambitious than the nationwide target.

It bears noting that the BPF found a widespread willingness to tackle embodied carbon – the carbon generated upstream through construction and materials – as well as operational emissions. The report recommends the introduction of mandatory life-cycle assessments for businesses across the built environment lifecycle, improving data on embodied carbon. It also states that the sector would support embodied carbon reduction targets from the Government, building on voluntary frameworks and tools like those offered by the World Green Building Council and UK Green Building Council.

Several other recommendations concern investment in renewable energy to reduce the operational emissions of buildings. The report advocates for the removal of barriers currently preventing Real Estate Investment Trusts from investing in off-site renewables, by broadening the asset classes they are entitled to invest in. It also comes out in favour of rules to mandate the instillation of solar panels on large residential, commercial and public buildings.

Solar mandates seem to be picking up speed across Europe. Last October, Ireland confirmed plans for a new grant scheme to support all schools to fit rooftop solar. Then, in November, the French government outlined a new mandate for solar panels on all large car parks.

PowerMarket estimates that if just 5% of the UK’s suitable roof space on commercial buildings were covered with solar installation, businesses would collectively save £12.6bn on annual energy costs.

Data sharing and planning reform

 Another recommendation made in the report are new mandates to facilitate the sharing of energy consumption data between the owners and occupiers of large commercial buildings. This lack of information and engagement provided between the two parties often means that occupiers and owners are not on the same page when it comes to decarbonisation, thus blocking progress.

There is, on a broader basis, the recommendation of a thorough assessment of how the current planning system is hampering the net-zero transition. The report highlights not only outdated rules – and some newer rules which seem to prioritise short-term economic growth above all else – are the problem, but also misalignment and under-resourcing across the planning system.

Much of this echoes the conclusion of Chris Skidmore MP’s Net-Zero Review. The Review calls for a planning system assessment to get underway this year. It also recommends that the Government backs at least one ‘Trailblazer Net-Zero City’, to achieve net-zero operational carbon emissions by 2030.

Reflecting on the BPF research findings, the Federation’s president Guy Grainger said: “There is no denying that the real estate industry is committed to net zero, with pledges being made at a global, national and local level, but these pledges need to be turned into credible action.”

Grainger, also global head of sustainability services and ESG at JLL, added: “Without clear incentives and regulation from Government we will continue to fall short of targets. The report highlights the insight we can garner when we collaborate and this collaboration, along with Government support is critical.”

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