Analysis  ⁄  Planning & place

Exeter net zero housing revolution takes root in Chestnut Avenue

Exeter City Council is taking exploratory steps from talking about a zero carbon future to delivering one with a pilot housing project in Wonford.

Exeter city council   Net zero exeter   Climate change   Housing   Retrofit   Energiesprong   Wonford  

The green shoots of a net zero housing revolution are to be found on Chestnut Avenue, in Exeter’s Wonford housing estate, where six of the city’s 5000 council-owned homes have been chosen to pilot a new approach to transforming existing houses into energy efficient, low maintenance homes.

The pilot has been developed by the city council in partnership with others including a company called Energiesprong UK. “Energiesprong”, which translates literally as “energy jump”, is the trade name of a commercial process for retrofitting existing houses to net zero carbon standards that is already well-established in the Netherlands.

As the Energiesprong concept arrives in the UK, with projects for Nottingham and Exeter councils and a housing association in Essex, the pilot puts Exeter among the front-runners on the long march to a net zero carbon future.

Exeter net zero carbon housing pilot project in Chestnut Avenue

Retrofitting existing housing stock to eliminate the residential sector’s contribution to climate-changing carbon emissions is critical. The latest figures show that residential property accounts for 18% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, a proportion that has risen steadily over the past ten years as the business and energy supply sectors have made more rapid progress in decarbonising.

Averaged UK figures show that space heating is the dominant driver of energy consumption in existing homes, making up 63% of annual energy consumption, followed by hot water demand (17%) and appliance demand (13%).

So, to meet Exeter City Council’s target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2030, urgent action is required to transform the city’s 50,000 homes.

The Chestnut Avenue pilot is both a demonstration of what retrofitting can achieve and, crucially, a source of learning to inform future investment decisions on a wider programme.

Exeter net zero carbon housing pilot project in Chestnut Avenue in Wonford

The Energiesprong concept is simple enough. A new outer shell is placed over an existing house. All the parts are precision-made in a factory before being brought to the conversion site. Wall panels are manufactured with integrated windows and doors, and are pinned directly to the existing outer walls. Roof tiles are replaced by a lightweight covering on top of which solar panels are laid together like tiles to keep the rain out.

The finished conversion requires no gas supply, and guarantees minimum temperatures and markedly reduced energy bills. The Green Alliance has produced a report which describes the process in more detail and assesses its potential.

With an experienced contractor a single house can be converted in as little as a day. However, while the six Chestnut Avenue houses selected for the pilot are arranged in a row of three adjacent semi-detached buildings, and all in council ownership, the pioneering nature of the project, combined with December’s wet weather, meant it has taken nearer four months to convert them.

Exeter net zero carbon housing pilot project external cladding and solar roof closeup

Ian Hutchcroft from Energiesprong UK recently delivered a seductive sales pitch to a thinly attended meeting of the city council’s Strategic Scrutiny Committee. He said three key conditions need to be met for the industry to take off in the UK.

First, a radical change in the purchaser-contractor relationship is required, from one in which the purchaser specifies a lot of detail to one where the purchaser specifies the outcomes to be achieved and leaves it to the supplier to decide how to achieve them.

Second, a shift to lower energy costs for tenants, because they need to consume less energy, is needed to allow a higher proportion of total housing payments to go to the landlord, in this case the council, to build up capital for future retrofits.

Third, the market for retrofits must become sufficiently large to encourage investment in the capacity to manufacture the parts needed for conversions at scale, thus reducing costs.

Exeter net zero carbon housing pilot project Mi-Space sign

The Chestnut Avenue retrofit is being carried out by Mi-space, an arm of the West Country-based Midas Group. But the project’s scale is tiny compared to the cost-efficient volumes needed to lower prices enough to persuade private sector landlords and owner occupiers, as well as councils and housing associations, to pay for conversions on a significant scale.

The Dutch experience was that institutional landlords needed to club together to create a sufficiently large customer base to justify the investments in manufacturing that are required. In the UK co-operatives could also be established to help owner-occupiers and private landlords take advantage of such economies of scale.

The principle is that the conversions pay for themselves through reduced energy and maintenance costs. But capital is needed upfront. Exeter has 50,000 houses of which only 10% are owned by the council. The city’s chief executive, Karime Hassan, tweeted after the scrutiny meeting that retrofit has the potential to help meet the city’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2030, but that scaling up from the pilot would be a challenge.

Exeter net zero carbon housing pilot project Karime Hassan tweet

It’s not only money that could hold back a programme like this. Owner-occupiers will need to decide whether they will stay in their homes long enough to benefit from the payback on the capital outlay, and older people may decide it’s not worth it.

Will private sector landlords, who currently simply pass on energy costs to their tenants, consider conversions value for money? Will the UK’s profit-driven construction industry be prepared to take on new types of outcome-based contract requiring 30-year guarantees? Will the government be prepared to toughen up building regulations to force house builders to adopt Passivhaus or similar standards and apply them retrospectively over time?

The benefits of major retrofitting programmes appear substantial, not only in terms of meeting our carbon targets but also because they create badly-needed new jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors to replace those displaced from climate-hostile industries.

Whether Exeter adopts the Energiesprong model or something similar, the time available to convert the city’s existing housing stock is short. Council officers are enthusiastic about the Chestnut Avenue pilot, but they know that they, as well as councillors, will have to make hard-headed decisions on the way forward.

Initial conclusions from the pilot project are expected by Easter 2020.


 is contributing editor of Exeter Observer and a member of its publisher Exeter Observer Ltd.

 


Recent stories
Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

Devon County Council local authority pension fund fossil fuel investment bar chart

Report places Devon County Council among UK's top local authority fossil fuel investors

Exeter polling station

May local elections to go ahead despite COVID-19 challenges

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

Exeter energy recovery facility

District heating network planned for new South West Exeter development

Climate change mitigation challenges infographic

University research consortium launches "Accelerate to Net Zero" project

More Analysis
Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

Exeter City Council has responded to an enquiry about disproportionate Church of England representation on the Liveable Exeter Place Board by accusing Exeter Observer of promoting a "partisan narrative" and claiming our public interest reporting "bears no resemblance to fact".

Harlequins shopping centre

First Liveable Exeter homes are substandard "warehousing for people" which is student accommodation "in all but name"

Harlequins shopping centre redevelopment approved by Exeter City Council includes 251 co-living units in seven storey tower block despite widespread opposition from conservation charities and community campaigners who have since appealed to the Secretary of State to call in the decision.

St Sidwell's Point development site outline aerial view

Exeter City Council executive members take direct control of city planning decisions

Council's executive now possesses majority on city planning committee, with council leader and planning portfolio holder also included despite national guidance, offering basis to challenge decisions and increasing democratic deficit.

All Analysis
More Planning & Place
Harlequins shopping centre

First Liveable Exeter homes are substandard "warehousing for people" which is student accommodation "in all but name"

Harlequins shopping centre redevelopment approved by Exeter City Council includes 251 co-living units in seven storey tower block despite widespread opposition from conservation charities and community campaigners who have since appealed to the Secretary of State to call in the decision.

Pulling Road Pinhoe Exeter zero carbon housing development site plan

Exeter's first "zero carbon" housing development includes 96 car parking spaces for 40 homes

Exeter City Council has approved plans to develop land at Pinhoe with a parking ratio of 2.4 cars per household as part of an "exemplar scheme for future residential development in the city" while accepting that zero carbon construction comes "at a cost to the provision of affordable housing".

Cranbrook town centre development site empty plots

Cranbrook town centre community building application submitted

Devon County Council is to develop new town centre facilities including a children's centre with public health nursing provision, youth centre with indoor and outdoor recreational spaces and library with small café.

All Planning & Place

Support Exeter Observer

News
Devon County Council local authority pension fund fossil fuel investment bar chart

Report places Devon County Council among UK's top local authority fossil fuel investors

£157 million of Devon Local Government Pension Scheme is invested in companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, BHP, Anglo American and ExxonMobil despite local authority climate emergency declarations and carbon reduction commitments.

Exeter polling station

May local elections to go ahead despite COVID-19 challenges

Ban on doorstep canvassing and door to door leaflet distribution likely to favour the two major parties on 6 May as postal and proxy voting encouraged in Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

All News
Comment
Exeter City Futures Blueprint for a Carbon Neutral Exeter by 2030 graphic

Is Exeter finally responding to the climate emergency?

A surge of activity about action to combat climate change is taking place in Exeter, including the publication of a carbon neutral blueprint pending a "mobilisation summit", but detail and evidence is still missing and community engagement is falling short of debate.

Exeter anti-government protest Devon for Europe speaker

Exeter protest misses its mark by mixing its messages

One of Exeter's biggest ever street demonstrations combined anti-Brexit and pro-democracy concerns to produce a confused protest against government policy.

Exeter City Council public toilet closures Exeter Live Better hoarding

Exeter could do better - was there no alternative to closing so many public toilets?

Exeter City Council did not need to close thirteen public toilets to balance the books. The money to keep them open was available in reserves, but no mention of this option was made during public decision-making by councillors or officers.

All Comment
Transport & Mobility
Pedestrians and people waiting at bus stop on Exeter Cowick Street

Council abandons temporary COVID-19 cycling and walking safety plans in Exeter city centre

Devon County Council cites "pushback" from traders as schemes on North Street, South Street, Fore Street and Cowick Street are scrapped. Meanwhile temporary changes in Topsham are dropped after "snap poll".

Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road, Exeter, 1 June 2020

Devon County Council fails to deliver promised COVID-19 cycling and walking infrastructure

Deadline for action on social distancing for safe travel set by county cabinet member passes despite Devon receiving £1.7 million share of government emergency fund.

Department for Transport New Road Layout for Social Distancing coronavirus road sign

Coronavirus exposes council failure to deliver Exeter transport plans

Devon County Council's failure to deliver overdue Exeter transport strategy and cycling and walking plan has led to an inadequate response to government demands for emergency coronavirus road layout changes.

All Transport & Mobility
Arts & Culture
Preston Street Union present SERGE/SURGE at Cricklepit Mill

Preston Street Union rolls out the red carpet

The Exeter-based artists explore migration driven by the city's historic wool trade in new work commissioned by RAMM.

Photo of The Jambassadors by Gabe Riedlinger

Jambassadors feature in pop-up Jazz Toast at Barnfield Theatre

Musical director Roz Harding invites us to join an Exeter College Music Academy student collective in a one-night-only experimental exploration of in-the-moment improvisation.

Extreme Imagination - inside the mind's eye exhibition at Exeter RAMM

Extreme Imagination - Inside the Mind's Eye

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Matthew MacKisack guides us through a RAMM exhibition that explores works by artists, writers and makers with widely varying visual imaginations.

All Arts & Culture
Climate & Environment
Devon County Council local authority pension fund fossil fuel investment bar chart

Report places Devon County Council among UK's top local authority fossil fuel investors

£157 million of Devon Local Government Pension Scheme is invested in companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, BHP, Anglo American and ExxonMobil despite local authority climate emergency declarations and carbon reduction commitments.

Exeter energy recovery facility

District heating network planned for new South West Exeter development

Local councils are investing up to £7.3 million in a £23 million project to supply a development of 2500 homes with heat from Marsh Barton waste incinerator.

Climate change mitigation challenges infographic

University research consortium launches "Accelerate to Net Zero" project

The GW4 Alliance of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities has launched a collaborative project aimed at accelerating decarbonisation across South West England and Wales.

All Climate & Environment
Democracy & Governance
Exeter City Council offices on Paris Street

Council pushes back on Liveable Exeter Place Board scrutiny following membership change

Exeter City Council has responded to an enquiry about disproportionate Church of England representation on the Liveable Exeter Place Board by accusing Exeter Observer of promoting a "partisan narrative" and claiming our public interest reporting "bears no resemblance to fact".

Exeter polling station

May local elections to go ahead despite COVID-19 challenges

Ban on doorstep canvassing and door to door leaflet distribution likely to favour the two major parties on 6 May as postal and proxy voting encouraged in Exeter City Council, Devon County Council and Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

St Sidwell's Point development site outline aerial view

Exeter City Council executive members take direct control of city planning decisions

Council's executive now possesses majority on city planning committee, with council leader and planning portfolio holder also included despite national guidance, offering basis to challenge decisions and increasing democratic deficit.

All Democracy & Governance
Education & Skills
Exeter University & College Union strike third week rally at St David's Church - Billy Bragg concert

University of Exeter strike ends third week with rally and concert at St David's Church

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in four weeks of national industrial action over pensions, equal pay for female and BAME staff, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment contracts.

Striking University of Exeter history lecturers Dr Jennifer Farrell and Dr Gemma Clark

University of Exeter staff strike over pay, pensions and working conditions

The Exeter branch of the University & College Union (UCU) is taking part in a national eight day strike for fair pay and pensions, including equal pay for female and BAME staff, and against casualisation and increasing workloads.

Rhian Keyse speaking at Exeter UCU's anti-casualisation campaign launch

Education union challenges university to address widespread casualisation of teaching staff

Exeter University & College Union (UCU) launched an anti-casualisation campaign on Friday as a prelude to negotiation with the University of Exeter over academic staff contracts.

Economy & Enterprise
Illustration showing how the new building will look when completed

Exeter Science Park STEMM "grow-out building" construction begins

A new specialist centre for fast-growth Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths & Medicine businesses will be completed by November 2021.

Small retail businesses on Paris Street, Exeter

Half of COVID-19 support grants unclaimed by Exeter businesses

Exeter City Council in bottom third of local authorities as only 45% of eligible local businesses claim government coronavirus support money.

Heart of the South West Local Industrial Strategy branding

Will a new South West industrial strategy deliver what it promises?

Our business-led Local Enterprise Partnership appears committed to a new approach to driving growth which its CEO describes as "game-changing".

Community & Society
Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Night shelter for homeless and rough sleepers in Magdalen Street, Exeter (front)

Exeter rough sleepers night shelter to open all year round

Exeter City Council has approved plans to extend Magdalen Street night shelter opening from April to the end of September.

Sally Ride, America's first woman astronaut communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck

University of Exeter PRISM network champions queer STEMM pioneers

Exeter students celebrated the lives of polar explorer and botanist Elke Mackenzie, inventor, engineer and futurist Nikola Tesla and astronaut and children's author Sally Ride in winning LGBT+ network competition entries.

All Community & Society