The UK has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The UK's 29 million houses represent 14% of total emissions (CCC, 2019), with nearly 90% of these built more than 20 years ago before stricter energy efficiency standards came into force (Ince & Marvin, 2019). Electrification of domestic energy services is central to achieving carbon neutrality, switching cooking, hot water, and space heating away from fossil energy, particularly natural gas. While the power generation sector is well on its way to reducing carbon intensity of the electricity grid (with emissions falling 68% since 1990; CCC, 2020), reducing demand for secondary energy at the household level will be essential to ensure that demand is aligned with production. This will require deep domestic energy retrofits occurring at an accelerating rate in coming years.
While many of the technologies required to achieve net-zero homes currently exist in the UK, their deployment has been slow for a variety of reasons (e.g., long payback period, split incentives, information gaps, restrictions on protected buildings). Further to this, retrofit deployment at the household level has generally been piecemeal, with a focus on switching to higher-efficiency appliances, rather than whole-system planning for a household’s unique net-zero strategy. Finally, it is essential that domestic retrofits be well-considered, so that these long-term investments do not inhibit the viability of future retrofit options and their performance.
This project will explore adoption of low-carbon domestic retrofits within the UK, to better understand existing drivers and barriers. It will take a life cycle sustainability perspective on domestic retrofit adoption as they scale up in order to understand the costs, environmental impacts, and social implications: Considering environmental impacts – as buildings become higher performance, their environmental impacts will shift from house operations to material inputs/outputs to a greater degree. Considering social implications – occupant experience is likely to change in the technological shift, such as interactions with the control systems of heat pumps. Further, construction practice is also changing, with increased interest in offsite construction, which also needs to be considered when selecting retrofit approaches. Finally, considering costs – the shift from operations focused costs to capital costs is worth tracking for these options, in understanding how best to finance them under changing carbon pricing regimes. The associated costs of maintenance cycles for low-carbon technologies also need to be factored in.
Eligibility requirements: Quantitative analysis skills; experience in research on domestic energy , sustainability in the built environment, life cycle assessment, or a relevant UG or PG degree