The complexity of retrofit and non-technical barriers

The complexity of retrofit and non-technical barriers

Richard Bubb
July 17, 2023
The complexity of retrofit and non-technical barriers

As the urgency to address climate change grows, retrofitting existing buildings has emerged as a crucial strategy to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. Symeco has just finished a project funded by Innovate UK as part of a consortium designing a Smart Local Energy System in Rugeley. Symeco was part of the Sustainable Housing Action Partnership (SHAP) team designing a plan for retrofitting the 10,500 domestic properties.

Retrofitting a single property is not without its challenges but can largely be accomplished through the installation of technical measures – improved insulation, renewable technologies, energy storage and ventilation. But when considering how to scale up retrofit, a whole set of complexities non-technical barriers emerge to hinder the widespread adoption of retrofit measures. SHAP’s findings from the project demonstrated that understanding the intricacies of retrofitting and tackling the non-technical barriers are incredibly important if we are able to improve housing stock in large numbers.

Understanding retrofit complexity

Retrofitting entails upgrading existing buildings with energy-efficient technologies and systems. The complexity arises from the diverse range of building types, varying ages, and structural conditions. Each retrofit project demands a unique approach to address specific challenges, such as outdated infrastructure, inadequate insulation, or inefficient heating systems, as well as understanding external issues such as the capacity of the local grid to accommodate electric heating. Balancing energy efficiency improvements for properties alongside external constraints requires careful planning and innovative solutions.

Financial constraints

One of the most significant non-technical barriers to retrofitting is the financial challenge. Retrofit projects often involve substantial upfront costs, which can deter building owners and managers from investing in energy-efficient upgrades. The return on investment or payback period can be lengthy, making it difficult for stakeholders to justify the initial expenses. Additionally, the split incentives problem can arise in cases where the building owner incurs the retrofit costs but does not directly benefit from the resulting energy savings, discouraging investment. SHAP found that a deep retrofit to minimise heat demand together with PV generation and use of flexible tariffs can have a significant impact on the total costs and payback period.

Lack of awareness and education

Many property owners and occupants are not fully aware of the potential benefits of retrofitting or the available incentives and financial support programs. Limited knowledge about retrofitting options, associated cost savings, and environmental advantages can prevent individuals and organisations from taking action. Education and awareness campaigns are crucial to bridge this gap and demonstrate the long-term value and positive impact of retrofitting on energy consumption, comfort, and sustainability, but also explain the upheaval and disruption retrofit improvement require.

Regulatory and policy challenges

Retrofitting efforts can be hampered by complex and inconsistent regulatory frameworks. Unclear policies, slow bureaucratic processes, and stringent building codes can impede progress and hinder the adoption of energy-efficient measures. Simplifying and streamlining the regulatory landscape, along with offering incentives and tax breaks, can encourage building owners to embrace retrofitting as a viable and economically viable option.

Supply chain availability and costs

The stop-start nature of government funding to national retrofit programmes has had an impact on the supply chain, with many installers choosing to leave the retrofit sector due to the lack of a consistent pipeline of work. Added to this is the necessary adoption of quality systems and new qualifications (such as PAS 2035) to ensure that retrofit measures are installed to the required quality. Without a long-term approach to support and promote retrofit installations, the sector is likely to remain small bring delays in installation and increased costs.

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