Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 26 April 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action
New Retrofitting Plan and the Built Environment: Discussion
The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the implementation and impact of the new retrofitting plan, the matter of emissions generally in the built environment sector, including embodied emissions, construction and demolition, and recycling and reuse of materials. On behalf of the committee, I welcome from the Irish Green Building Council Mr. Pat Barry, its chief executive officer, and Ms Marion Jammet. We also have with us Dr. Oliver Kinnane, assistant professor at the school of architecture, planning and environmental policy in University College Dublin, UCD. Dr. Josephina Lindblom of the European Commission's DG Environment is joining us online.
Before we begin, I will read the note on privilege.
Guests are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice whereby they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in regard to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction. For guests attending remotely from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as does a witness who is physically present.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members they may participate in this meeting only if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I ask any member joining us online to confirm, prior to making his or her contribution, that he or she is on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.
I invite Mr. Barry to make his opening statement.
Mr. Pat Barry:
The Irish Green Building Council is working in co-operation with the industry and key stakeholders to develop a roadmap to decarbonise Ireland’s built environment. For the first time, we have tried to capture the total environmental impact of construction and the built environment across its whole life cycle. This work, done in close co-operation with University College Dublin, UCD, shows that emissions associated with construction and the built environment add up to 37% of our national CO emissions. This comprises 23% operational emissions associated with the energy we use to heat, cool and light our buildings, while a further 14% of the emissions are embodied carbon emissions from the production of construction materials, the transport of materials, the construction process and the maintenance, repair and disposal of buildings and infrastructure.
The introduction of the nearly zero energy building standard for new build and the new national retrofit scheme will lead to reductions in the CO emissions due to the operation of buildings, but the regulations need to be strengthened. While we welcome the certainty provided by the new national retrofit scheme, retrofits must be made easier and more affordable. Homeowners do not know what to do or where to start and need fully independent energy renovation advisers to support them on their journey and the first step is to develop a building renovation passport to plan a high-quality staged retrofit. If the information within these passports is captured centrally, they could also support project aggregation and materials aggregation, hence reducing costs.
Under our current building regulations, there is no requirement for the measurement of carbon emissions in construction beyond that associated with operational energy. The ambitious construction and renovation programmes for housing and infrastructure to cater for an expanding population over the coming 20 years could lead to significant carbon emissions if embodied carbon is not taken into account. There is a risk we will blow the construction and built environment carbon budget if we do not address embodied carbon emissions. The impact of all new buildings and infrastructure should be measured immediately at a project level within public procurement. The public spending code should be updated to ensure carbon is fully accounted for in construction and infrastructure spending plans.
To provide certainty to the industry, a clear timeline should be published on the introduction of regulations on embodied carbon. This should start with the requirement to measure and disclose before 2025. The data gathered through disclosure should then allow for the setting of project-specific carbon limits by 2027. This will improve the knowledge of the industry, stimulate action for carbon reduction and spark innovation in products and services.
Several concerted actions are needed to reduce the embodied carbon emissions associated with the built environment. First, we must value existing buildings and avoid throwing away the embodied carbon and resources within them by discouraging demolition through the planning system.
We must reuse existing buildings and bring as much vacant property back into use as possible in order to minimise the need for new construction. For new buildings, we must encourage better design and more efficient use of materials. Addressing embodied carbon emissions can address construction cost by saving on wasted or excessive material use.
Materials used in construction must be low impact. This means encouraging the use of reused and recycled materials to transition to circular construction. Government has a role to play in removing the barriers to reuse of materials. Ireland’s climate is ideally suited and has great potential to provide bio-based construction materials, from timber to rapidly renewable fibres such as hemp. Bio-based materials require lower CO2 emissions to produce and they also sequester carbon. Only 24% of newly constructed homes in Ireland are timber frame compared with 75% in Scotland. We need to support new local forestry and agriculture related industries to supply the construction sector. Forestry licensing must be reformed to increase levels of planting. Building regulations need to facilitate the use of low-carbon technologies and products, enabling the use of timber at scale without compromising safety or quality. Existing construction industries such as concrete and cement must be decarbonised.
We would like to highlight once again that addressing whole-life carbon emissions in the built environment is critical to achieving our 2030 targets. Embodied carbon is a major gap in carbon policy in Ireland and therefore we need to start from today to measure and reduce.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
I thank the committee for inviting me to present. The building in a climate emergency research group at UCD is undertaking a comprehensive modelling study of the Irish built environment and construction sector, baselining current activity and projecting emissions out to 2030 and 2050. The evidence I give today is primarily derived from that research and from projects funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and the European Commission, all focused on achieving a more sustainable built environment.
Through our modelling work we have shown that the construction and operation of the Irish built environment accounts for 23 megatonnes of CO2 emissions annually, a 37% share of all emissions. This is split two to one between the operation and construction of the built environment. The built environment is growing. Considerable construction across all sectors is planned from now to 2030. This growth in our built environment will bring significant additional operational and embodied emissions in the short time horizon to 2030. Our model highlights the challenge to reduce operational emissions by 51%. The only scenario where we achieve this reduction in operational carbon by 2030 is one where: the national retrofit plan is implemented in its entirety; renewable energy rises to 80%; and significant changes in user behaviour to further increase the efficiency of buildings in use occur. Improvement in embodied emissions, although not bound by the same targets, will be even more difficult. We baseline today’s emissions at approximately 9 megatonnes of CO2, and if construction grows as outlined in the national development plan, NDP, with no change in the carbon intensity of construction, our model shows embodied emissions rising to over twice that total by 2030.
It is essential that we enhance the performance of the current building stock. Retrofit of 500,000 homes to a B2 standard or better can reduce emissions by 2 megatonnes of CO2 by 2030 if aligned with significant improvement in the carbon intensity of the electricity supply. Current retrofit rates are well below the levels required, however. Among other barriers, necessary knowledge and skills are lacking across the design and construction industry. Through projects we have undertaken for the SEAI we have identified a performance gap between house retrofits to a nearly zero energy building, NZEB, standard and actual performance. In some cases, A-rated homes are performing at C levels. Approximately 50% of fabrics are not meeting design U-values and heat pumps are underperforming, often due to improper installation. It is important we get retrofit right to avoid retrofitting the retrofit in ten years' time.
Embodied emissions in construction will grow to 2030 as construction grows.
It is not regulated and measurement is currently not mandated, even though these emissions represent 14% of our national emissions. Concrete represents more than 90% of our building material-related national production emissions. Innovations in the cement industry can reduce this considerably. Savings of up to 50%, or more, are possible. We estimate that a low-clinker, low-carbon concrete could cut 15% to 20% off the annual embodied carbon cost of our own national development. Bio-based materials are a solution but uptake is low and skills and production facilities are lacking. No processing facility exists for hemp, for example, and building regulations restrict their potential use.
We have some of the highest rates of vacancy in Europe. Our model shows that retrofitting 100,000 of our vacant homes could slice 1 MtCO2e off an embodied carbon bill of 4 to 5 MtCO2e for the 400,000 new homes proposed in the national development plan. We are constructing many new buildings but we are also demolishing buildings to make way for replacement buildings. Young buildings, built only 30 to 40 years ago, are being torn down all over the city to be replaced by buildings of much greater floor area and materials of high embodied carbon. The service life of buildings is constantly decreasing. This is unsustainable. We need to save the buildings we have and retrofit first.
On recycling and reuse of materials, we need to circularise our construction economy. Construction and demolition waste is thought to be the fastest-growing waste stream in the country and up to 10 megatonnes annually is expected in the coming years. This needs to be repurposed. We need to get creative with our waste reuse. As an example, our research group is doing a project with industry to replace up to 20% of cement in concrete with ground glass from recycled glass bottle waste.
We can achieve our ambitious targets but much work is required. A whole-life carbon perspective of the built environment is necessary. We can achieve considerable emission savings through retrofit but embodied emissions are growing and need to be measured, regulated and reduced. Higher education will play an important role. Research funding is critical to allow us to work alongside industry. We need to adapt curricula to respond to the knowledge and skills shortage.
I thank Dr. Kinnane. Dr. Lindblom is joining us online. I understand she does not have a formal statement but if she wishes to make any comments or respond to some of the points already made, she is more than welcome to do so.
Dr. Josephina Lindblom:
I thank the committee for inviting me. I work at the European Commission's Directorate General for the Environment, in a unit relating to circularity and sustainable production and consumption. Circularity and life cycle thinking are very important in the building sector. If we consider the full life cycle of buildings in the EU, this sector is responsible for about half of all our extracted materials and half our total energy consumption. A third of our total generated waste is construction and demolition waste. Up to now, the focus of the EU, as well as national building policies, has been on energy performance during the use phase of the building, that is, the energy used for heating and cooling buildings. In order to actually decarbonise the building stock, one must look at the full life cycle and minimise the so-called whole-life carbon that we have heard of. This means we should also consider what happens before and after we use our buildings. We must ask ourselves this question: what if, in order to make our buildings more energy-efficient, we use a lot of materials in an inefficient way? That comes with its own carbon cost. What if that so-called embodied carbon is of such quantity that you will have to use the building in a very energy-efficient way for 20, 30 or even 40 years before that initial carbon cost is paid off? What if we are renovating our existing buildings to become more energy-efficient in such a way that, at the end of the life of those buildings, the insulation cannot be separated from the concrete so all the material ends up in landfill as opposed to being recycled?
This is largely the current situation. We therefore need modern policy that acknowledges and makes use of circularity and life cycle thinking to reach our climate targets. This will help us to do so in a much more cost efficient way. The European Commission has developed a common language to assess and report on the sustainability performance of buildings. We call this framework Level(s). It includes whole-life carbon and indicators which help a beginner to get on track to assess broader carbon emissions. In the past year, we started to use Level(s) as a basis for circularity and life cycle thinking in a range of policy initiatives and legislative proposals.
The energy performance of buildings directive is the key building performance legislation in the EU. The proposal for its revision includes the requirement to assess and report on whole life carbon for new buildings. It takes life cycle thinking into account, while setting out legislation for a decarbonised building stock. Being a directive, which is under negotiation, it sets minimum requirements but it gives freedom to member states to have a higher level of ambition in their own legislation. Several EU member states are moving ahead in this area. They understand that this is the most cost-efficient way of decreasing carbon emissions. They refer to whole-life carbon in national legislation and make reporting on it part of their permissions process. Some also set limits as well as requiring reporting. They set out a process of how to tighten these for the future.
I stress that this is considered to be very positive by the European Commission. Linked to the energy performance of buildings directive and the requirement to report on whole-life carbon performance of buildings, I also note it will be mandatory to report the relevant data about the carbon performance of the construction products, that is, the material used for the building under the revised construction products regulation, which was adopted by the Commission a few weeks ago. We are doing it at both the building and product levels, so we are all moving in the same direction.
I want to comment on sustainable finance and its taxonomy, which is important in this regard. This initiative targets private investments and sets out criteria that need to be fulfilled to define the investment as sustainable. There is a requirement to assess and report on whole life carbon for new buildings to be considered as a sustainable investment. In all these policy initiatives, the indicators in the Level(s) framework are used as a basis to bring in whole-life carbon. This framework allows governments to have a structured way to introduce requirements in their own legislation. I mentioned that other member states are moving ahead and are doing so while basing themselves on the Level(s) framework. The Commission looks at this as a highly positive development. I strongly encourage the committee to consider this in its work.
I thank Dr. Lindblom for her statement. There were some very interesting points. We will go to questions and answers. We are limited to three hours for this meeting. I propose that members take two minutes to ask their questions and we will give latitude to our guests to answer them, taking as much time as they need, within reason. Is that agreed? Agreed. I ask members to raise their hands to indicate they wish to speak. Some have already done so.
I was heartened to hear Dr. Lindblom speak about the energy performance of buildings directive, EPBD. The original EPBD drove much of the change we have already seen in this country. The new EPBD sounds as though it will take us further in the right direction. I wonder about the timeline in that regard and about other member states.
It sounds like some member states are well ahead of us. Perhaps Mr. Barry, Ms Jammet or Dr. Kinnane will speak about the Irish context. What can Ireland do in the near term to get up to speed with the general direction of the energy performance of buildings directive, EPBD? I am aware of a project in Limerick that I think utterly farcical. It is proposed to knock a public building and move all the staff into a brand new shiny building across the road. It makes absolutely no sense that we are not renovating the existing building because if we did so, we would not need to build the expensive, shiny building across the road. This kind of thing is going on in Ireland. It seems from our guests' opening statements that we are way behind with respect to valuing embodied emissions. This committee has done a lot of work on climate-related legislation in the past two years but has not looked at embodied emissions and instead focused on the operational side. It seems that if we did not do anything, we could theoretically meet our carbon reduction goals while still having very significant levels of embodied emissions associated with the built environment sector in Ireland. Perhaps our guests would speak about where Ireland is at in that regard and to where we need to get. I know our guests touched on many of the relevant points in their detailed opening statements. How quickly can we implement important reform in this area?
Mr. Pat Barry:
We can start to look immediately for disclosure with regard to public procurement because the public sector should be an exemplar. Every publicly procured project should require disclosure of embodied carbon.
We should start to ask for carbon to be considered as part of the planning process. We recently released a free carbon assessment tool with the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. It allows early, initial analysis to be done on every building. It is a free tool and allows quick and easy carbon assessment that can even be done at the pre-planning stage. The client can work out an essential carbon budget for the building. We can start to ask for this information at planning stage and the Planning Regulator could set out guidance for planning authorities in how they look for information on planning. That could be a light touch and could be done immediately within development plans.
Mr. Pat Barry:
Particularly where demolition is proposed, there should be an analysis provided of why that demolition needs to happen. There should be a calculation of the embodied carbon of the proposed building and an environmental case needs to be made as to why that demolition is going to happen. There may be cases where the additional density, perhaps a twofold or threefold increase, in a location with good transport can be justified. However, that needs to be assessed through planning.
How close are we to introducing the kinds of systems we need? When we spoke before, Mr. Barry mentioned that the UK has a significant database of buildings and embodied emissions associated with its building stock. Is that correct?
Mr. Pat Barry:
The UK is a little further ahead. The London development plan now requires embodied carbon calculations. Circularity statements are required for larger buildings at concept stage. One of the challenges was having the data on products and materials but we have started to build that out now. Many Irish construction manufacturers are now producing the data on environmental product declarations, EPDs. We have run a successful programme on developing EPDs.
The Irish Green Building Council is developing a database on generic data. We have the data now. We have the tools. We have trained up professionals in how to do it so now all we really have to do is define it. We have the levels methodology so we know exactly how we have to implement it. It is now only a question of asking for it and requiring it.
On the train coming here, I read the report Dr. Kinnane co-authored. As usual, I did not have enough time to get through it but it is a very impressive report. If he wants to try to address the question as well, he should feel free to do so.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
I thank the Chairman for the compliment. I must pass the congratulations on to my research team, Mr. Richard O'Hegarty and Mr. Stephen Wall, who have worked very hard on the report and the model.
I totally agree with what Mr. Barry said. We are on a very worrying trajectory at present. We see it all over the city. To take an example of a local site, the old Passport Office building across the road was built in the 1980s and demolished only 30 years later. That building succeeded one built 50 years previously. We are getting this cycle of construction and demolition with shorter service life that could be down to 20 or 30 years in future. We just cannot afford to do that. There is no way we can. The embodied carbon of these buildings is significant. We are talking about a tonne of CO2 per metre squared of built floor area and these floor areas are getting bigger all the time. That is the other thing. If we look at the AIB site in Ballsbridge or anything like that, those buildings are increasing by multiples of up to four times the size of the original building. We need to assess whether that is necessary. To my mind, we need to legislate to stop unnecessary construction.
Certainly, the first step needs to be that we measure the embodied carbon of these kind of constructions. We also need to start measuring the sunk carbon. If a building exists on-site, how much carbon exists there? That should be accounted for in a carbon budget for development. Maybe that should be legislated for.
I am in my office in the Oireachtas. I thank the witnesses for their presentations. It shows the merit of taking a circular approach as opposed to just looking at the production-based inventory we have in carbon budgeting.
One thing that strikes me is that the representatives are very heavily focused on regulation, with demolition statements, embodied carbon statements, circularity statements and log books. That is necessary and will come, but I also hear from them that the industry does not have the skills to do that. Where is the low-hanging fruit? For example, it was stated that 24% of newly constructed homes here are timber versus 75% in Scotland. Can we achieve a shift there, through the professions and the typical designs that are used? Can we make an early shift? Some 90% of construction demolition waste is not reused. Only 10% has any recovery. Can we make early changes there so we get early wins while these larger regulatory changes are being made?
It would be interesting to hear from our EU colleague about where these regulatory changes are being pushed through. I am sure Ms Lindblom has had to carry out regulatory impact assessments. What is their likely impact on cost? In the long term, it will obviously make it cheaper to run these buildings over their life cycle but we face a housing crisis in the short term. Will we face short-term rises in costs in completion that forces first-time buyers?
Have the representatives spoken to the SEAI, which is about to launch an €8 billion retrofit programme, in order to make sure that some of these principles will be built in at the outset? We will have 20 big aggregators for retrofitting. It seems possible they could embrace some of the suggestions.
Mr. Pat Barry:
I agree with some of those points. Part of getting the early wins is the fact that industry is very good at stepping up to the mark when it is asked to do something. Once it is asked to do something, or once a signal is given that we are going to move towards regulation, it is quite quick to respond. There are early wins such as trying to move more construction towards a timber-based or bio-based approach but there are some regulatory barriers that we need to get over, particularly around the use of timber construction over 10 m, which is very difficult to do in Ireland. Some guidance on low-density timber-frame homes has been introduced that has made it a little more difficult there as well. For example, there is the issue of agrément certificates, which the SEAI requires for insulation grants. Unless you have an Irish agrément, it can be difficult to use some of the bio-based insulations we currently import. Perhaps we should be looking at developing those ourselves. There are some barriers we could quite quickly remove and that would incentivise a move towards lower embodied carbon materials. One of the big impacts of heat pumps over their life cycle is the refrigerants used in them. Some of the refrigerants have very high global warming potential. We could move towards incentivising heat pumps with a much lower global warming potential. It is possible to get refrigerants with a global warming potential of one, whereas some of the typical ones could be 600 times that. Over the lifetime of a heat pump, that will have a very large impact. That could be addressed quite quickly by the SEAI.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
I agree totally with the heat pump comment. The leakage of F-gases from heat pumps could be a big issue going forward. The embodied carbon of a heat pump is already quite significant at about 4 megatonnes so we need to limit that through its lifetime. We also need to make timber construction easier. The restrictions at the moment are very limiting to timber construction, particularly as we go to mid-rise or high-rise construction. These technologies are well-proven by our near neighbours. The UK is doing an awful lot of timber construction at the moment and we are lagging behind on that. We need greater investment in facilities for bio-based materials in the country. I was talking to somebody from Hemp Federation Ireland last week and they said there is good uptake and growth of hemp, which is a well-proven material used across the Continent, but there is no national processing facility here so it has to be exported and imported back in. If we are going to use hemp as insulation, or hempcrete as a material in our home industry, we are talking about transformation across the industry. The waste situation is worrying and unsustainable. We are reducing the number of landfills, yet we are specifying that nearly all our construction waste needs to go to landfill. That is going to increase quite a lot with the increase in construction.
Mr. Pat Barry:
Yes. One of the problems at the moment is the way we have implemented the European waste framework directive, particularly around the definition of waste. Articles 27 and 28 of the directive set out criteria for when waste is waste and when it is the byproduct coming out of a building.
Under how we have applied the regulations, virtually everything that comes out of a site becomes waste unless it is reused on the site or the contractor applies to the EPA to have it considered a by-product. In many cases, we are taking perfectly good soil and stone from sites and, in order for that to be reused on another site down the road, it has to go through a licensing process to be categorised as a by-product. Other countries are not applying the regulations the way we are. In the Netherlands, contractors are able to reuse these materials as they are. If there are excess materials on a site in Ireland, though, they can be considered waste and end up being backfilled simply because of how we have applied our waste definitions. Under the European directive, we are allowed to define waste classes as by-products. This could be a simple and easy win.
Dr. Josephina Lindblom:
I will make three points on the cost question. I do not know the Irish situation in particular, but when I hear about building projects or national experiences where people are going ahead with this kind of thinking, they are not necessarily pointing to one or two low-hanging fruits specifically. Rather, they are saying that, if they are pushed to assess and report on whole-life carbon, they become aware of what it is and start to compare different design options, and when they do so, they realise that, without making enormous differences in what they have planned, they can impact whole-life carbon significantly. They also say that, if they had not needed to assess and report on it, they would not even have thought about it. It is not the case that someone can take a single large action and solve 20% of the problem. Rather, if someone is aware of small actions and learns how to work with and assess them, he or she can save 10% to 20% - that is what I typically hear – just by being aware that what he or she is doing has an impact on whole-life carbon.
Member states that are proceeding with this have realised that, if they want to save a total amount of carbon, it is much more efficient to look at the embodied carbon as well, that is, the part of the whole-life carbon that is linked to the materials and so on. If they do not do that and instead try to save the same amount of carbon just by making their buildings very energy efficient, it would be extremely difficult and costly. Looking at the whole picture is a much more cost-efficient way of saving the same amount of carbon.
Those who are working on saving carbon in a more targeted way say that saving carbon saves on cost. Embodied carbon is, in a sense, material and if someone can save material, he or she saves costs.
I thank Dr. Lindblom. I might add to Deputy Bruton’s question on the timeline of the directive. Perhaps Dr. Lindblom can point to countries that are getting ahead of the directive and we should be looking to emulate.
Dr. Josephina Lindblom:
Yes. The Commission's proposals on the revised energy performance of buildings directive set out that, by 2027, new buildings that are larger than 2,000 sq. m would need to be assessed and reported on and, by 2030, all buildings would need to be. There are member states that view this as being far too late and others that are not used to thinking in this way. The member states that are most advanced are France, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. The Nordic countries are doing this together because they have an internal market, as it were, so they are ensuring that what they are doing is compatible across their borders. They already have suggestions on targets, limit values and how to squeeze those in future.
In the case of limit values, Denmark is the country that is most ahead.
Yes, I am indeed. I thank the witnesses for their presentations today. They were incredibly interesting, but also very worrying, because this seems to be a real blind spot for us as a country. It does not seem like we have actually even thought about this as an issue.
Dr. Kinnane spoke about the modelling of what the embodied carbon is for the current housing and building stock. Has there been modelling done taking into account the proposals under the Housing for All plan? What will it actually mean for that? If we are looking at the embodied emissions, it seems to be, I believe, 14%. Am I correct in thinking that could be nearly 30% by the time the Government gets the Housing for All plan fully implemented? That is my first question.
My second question is on the point in Dr. Kinnane’s briefing note where he said there has been work done for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, in relation to the performance gap between houses retrofit to near zero energy building, nZEB, and the actual performance. There seems to be quite a discrepancy between what the expectation was and what the reality is. What are the reasons for that? Why is there such a gap? It seems that 50% of fabrics are not meeting their actual design values. I am just wondering what the gaps are. Why has this happened? Has the SEAI taken those learnings and applied them to the current retrofitting plan? If the Government will be putting something like €8 billion into retrofitting and we have a very limited timeframe in which to get this done, it is incredibly important that we do it correctly and we get the emissions saving value from the money and investment that we are making. Those are my two questions.
Just on that, because I know this work was done with the SEAI, I would imagine that they may have some understanding. They would also be very familiar with the conditions being placed on the one-stop shop entities and whether or not those specific conditions reflect the underperformance and what has happened previously with the retrofitting that has been installed and implemented.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
With regard to the first question on Housing for All, the projection is that if we build 400,000 homes, there will be an embodied carbon cost of somewhere between 4 megatonnes and 6 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent, based on the current carbon intensity of construction. If we were to move to a less carbon-intensive model and move from predominantly masonry construction to, say, timber construction, we could reduce that bill quite considerably. However, it is a lot of construction and it will come with a high embodied carbon bill.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
At the moment, the embodied carbon is about 14% of the national figure. We could see that increase to more than 20% to 25%. I do not think it would reach 40%. A doubling of it is what we would project. I would have to go back to our models and have a look exactly at figures, and we can produce those. It could be up to 20% to 25%. There is an awful lot of construction outlined in the national development plan and we have tried to model that. It could push us to multiples of our target values, although the embodied carbon is not tied to the -51% reduction, necessarily. However, from a national carbon perspective, the answer is "yes".
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
Yes. That is at different levels of resolution. The data for residential from the SEAI is very good and well maintained but there is far less data available for non-residential and commercial buildings, and even less for infrastructure. We have a number of different methods where we try to calculate the embodied carbon across the built environment by looking at import and export of materials. We produce a good deal of concrete and cement here and we export much of that. We import a good deal of metals and other materials. We can work it out based on those values.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
It is, certainly. We make all these findings available to the SEAI. This is research funded by the SEAI which is keen to learn from the projects it has funded. This is only happening in certain cases where we are seeing a performance gap. We have a project with the SEAI, the nZeb101 project, where we are trying to monitor a large cohort of near zero-energy buildings. Many of them are performing at very high B level or at A level, but some in certain cases are performing at a C level for which there are a number of reasons. One is a comfort-taking issue where people in retrofit homes are often living in warmer temperatures because they can. These homes retain the heat better but at the same time the energy bills might be increasing. We also see installation issues, such as mis-sizing of heat pumps. We have another project with the SEAI, the MacAirH project, where we are trying to evaluate heat pumps in operation. We see many issues with them, such as poor installation, lack of insulation of piping, long pipe-runs and heat loss through the mismatching of heat pumps with emitter sizes. We see the performance of heat pumps rated by manufacturers at 3.5 all the way up to 4.5 commonly operating at about 2.5 and slightly below that. These are research findings backed up by much bigger studies done in the UK with larger sample sizes and greater research funding. There are a number of reasons.
When we looked at the fabric, we were surprised by the results of the fabric analysis. On-site installation issues and certain design issues seem to be a problem. It is hard for us to do opening-up works post-construction so commonly we rely on thermal imaging and try to decipher from that, or heat flux monitoring. Often it is thermal bridging due to bridged elements in the wall or thermal bypassing where there is convective movement in behind the insulation. These are design and construction issues.
Hopefully, there is going to be a significant ramping up of retrofitting and we are going to have many people coming into the industry who may not necessarily have worked in it before or have the expertise. Is the correct regulation and governance of that work in place at the moment to ensure that we do not see significant problems going forward with how the retrofitting is being conducted?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
I will talk about the training in the first place and then hand the regulation of the industry across to Mr. Barry. Certainly, as I said in my statement, across all educational levels we need to make a massive transformation and start supplying people with the correct skills. There have been many good interventions. The nZeb centres of excellence have been a great addition. Incentivisation of the construction industry to join those training courses can make it aware of these kinds of installation issues. I did one before Christmas and I learned a good deal and it was well worth the trip. Training is a huge part of it. Certainly in higher education, we need to do a great deal as well, and through HEI investment that we have got we plan to do much reform of curricula across all the architecture schools around the country to try to train architects in designing for retrofit and designing for energy efficiency as a priority.
Mr. Pat Barry:
For us one of the important issues is that, particularly for homeowners, there is always an independent adviser involved. We would be concerned if the one-stop shops were largely contractor-led and there was no independent advice being given to the homeowners.
Before any work begins, it is critical that somebody independent comes in to evaluate the property. Ideally, we would like to see a building renovation passport developed for each home. Not everybody is able to do a full retrofit in one go. They may be able to afford a couple of measures, but those measures all have to link together. The building renovation passport is about setting out a long-term strategy for the home. It is important that the measures applied to the home are suitable. For example, in a heritage property or traditionally-built home, there may be issues with dampness or structural defects, which all have to be evaluated before any renovation can begin. Renovations may have to be delayed by six months to a year if there have been issues with rainwater goods that have been leaking. The fabric needs to dry out. A particular type of insulation may be required. If we allow contractors to lead on it, we may end up with inappropriate solutions. It really emphasises the importance of independent evaluation.
I thank the witnesses. The last point about the performance gap would concern people. Dr. Kinnane pointed to some possible reasons. The European Court of Auditors indicated similar issues, which are concerning. The SEAI was here a couple of weeks ago. I specifically asked about longitudinal information before and after an assessment. It stated it is looking at that with pilot studies. It did not say there was a systematic response or a system to be put in place that would be comprehensive enough to catch the weaknesses. What metrics does Dr. Kinnane think would be appropriate to address those performance gap issues? He has limitations with regard to access. If he was developing a system, what would be necessary from a technical and a training perspective? What longitudinal requirements are there to ensure that householders are sufficiently au fait with the new technology and how to get the best performance from it? Mr. Barry might also refer to that.
The revised energy performance of buildings directive proposals introduce minimum energy performance standards, MEPS, across the entire residential sector by 2030. What framework does Mr. Barry think need to be put in place to ensure that can happen and to support it?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
In the long term, we would all like to see more post-occupancy evaluation of buildings. The research community for energy in buildings has been calling for this for decades. There is a gap with the delivery of the product. We design buildings to a certain standard, but nobody ever really checks if they operate like that. It has been shown through academic study for many decades that these low energy buildings often do not operate as they should. In the long term, we hope to monitor heat and electrical usage in buildings to understand how well they are performing. Maybe somebody will take responsibility for post-occupancy performance of the building.
How would one do that? What sort of technology does one use? What sort of scale? Would one take a representative sample? Who does Dr. Kinnane believe would do it, the research community or a body such as the SEAI?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
It could be a shared effort. There is almost space for another profession in between architecture and construction, for somebody who monitors the end product. The SEAI might take it on or an offshoot of the SEAI, together with academia. The data certainly are of much interest to us in the research community. The actual technology to do it is available. We do it, for example with the nZeb101 project that we are doing, where we go in and put CT clamps - I cannot remember what the acronym stands for - on the electricity supply and depending on how the board is broken up, we can monitor electrical supply to different elements. That becomes even easier in the case of heat pumps. With gas fired boilers it is more difficult to get flow meters that are reliable and calibrated to monitor gas supply. We can take some readings from billing information. There are a lot of data out there, although getting a handle on it is difficult. New heat pump technology monitors much of the energy usage of the heat pump and can be downloaded. Making that available in the long term is something I would like to see. Maybe it starts in non-residential buildings and then moves on to residential buildings but I think it is achievable.
On the point of occupants and new technologies, it is going to be a big issue in the coming years as we introduce new heating technologies into the system. We do many occupant surveys of buildings we monitor. There is a lack of knowledge of the operating of heat pump systems, where the output temperatures are much lower than in an oil-fired boiler radiator system. Occupants are expecting the same high temperature touch to the radiator and when they do not get it, they might turn up the system and then throw everything off balance. There is certainly room for much occupant education as well at different levels. That needs to be done.
Mr. Pat Barry:
On the framework for the minimum energy performance, it is important that there be a strategic framework. What we do not want to happen is say, a landlord who is about to put a property on the market and who needs to hit a certain performance level throws in a couple of measures just to get him to the minimum performance. What really needs to happen is there needs to be something like a digital passport, a building renovation passport, that first sets out where the building needs to get to in order that measures are not carried out just to achieve a particular benchmark and that all of the information on the measures that are carried out are recorded in some form of digital logbook. Therefore the next owner of that property, if the landlord passes the property on, the next owner has access to exactly what has happened. They will know what Register of Electrical Contractors Ireland, RECI, certificates were issued as to what electrical work has been carried out. They will know exactly the type of heat pump that has been installed and exactly what is in the walls. Because that work is covered up, you do not know if you are buying a property, what is in the walls. We need to introduce a similar approach to conveyancing that includes all of this information in order that every time the property passes on to the next owner, they can build upon that work and can rely on that work and the information is reliable enough that they know the next measure will get them to a B1 and it fits; they do not have to undo the previous work that was done. For example, the obvious thing a landlord would do is put in a condensing gas boiler. That will get him or her up two notches in the building energy rating, BER, straight away but that is obviously not the best thing to do because we want to decarbonise them. We have to have a long-term strategy that can be built on step by step.
Mr. Barry mentioned the independent monitoring and assessment and I presume he thinks that post works as well, somebody would independently sign off on the work that it was of a standard and on the passport piece as well.
Where does Mr. Barry think that would fit? Is it with the SEAI or a different agency? Does a similar model exist elsewhere? How might that be best administered?
Mr. Pat Barry:
It probably sits with the SEAI. As part of the building energy rating, BER, it already has an upload platform for BER assessors to upload documents to show compliance with the energy performance certificate, EPC. There is already an audit trail so it is about making all that information available to the homeowner digitally. It probably rests with the authority.
I will pick up on the point raised by Mr. Barry regarding boilers. A condensing boiler may be installed to bring a house up to a particular BER level, but that might not be the correct decision for someone who may want to go the whole way eventually. Where are we at in respect of regulation to phase out fossil fuel boilers? There is something in the climate action plan about it, if I am not mistaken. There might be an end date. The representatives are probably much more familiar with that element of it than I am, but it is obviously something that needs to happen as soon as possible to meet the net-zero and 2030 targets.
There are two sides to it: the phasing out of the sale of fossil fuel boilers and the installation of fossil fuel boilers in new homes. Are we still building new homes that have fossil fuel boilers in them?
I thank the witnesses. It is a very interesting discussion. Some of the key points I am taking from it as regards ongoing evaluation of nearly zero energy building standard, NZEB, or retrofitted buildings is crucial for so many different reasons, some of which have been covered. Given our poor record regarding buildings being delivered to the standard set out in regulation, and the lack of monitoring of the construction of houses over a lengthy period, in addition to self-regulation and the deficiencies that has presented us with, the concept of a renovation passport or carbon statement for NZEB buildings is key. There is a consumer effect to the provision of such a certificate or passport because it will make a property more desirable since it will have lower energy consumption and improved carbon credentials, particularly when it comes to such a property changing hands.
I will go back to another element of this discussion, namely, that of quality control. Is that solely with the SEAI or is there a sectoral responsibility, outside any consumer responsibility, for it to actually deliver properties that pass these checks? It occurs to me that the BER assessments operate on assumption, in my experience. Perhaps this is a question for Mr. Barry. They assume the regulatory standards have been met, there are certain levels of insulation here and there, and there are seals here and there, whereas much of the time those are not present and that is a problem. I have come across it. I bought a home containing pyrite in 2005. I bought another home in 2018 that, when I stripped back plasterboard, had very clearly not been delivered to standard. I have a concern regarding the continuation of self-regulation in the building sector.
My final point might not be one in respect of which Mr. Barry can provide an answer directly but he may have a view on it. It concerns the capacity of, for example, the timber sector to step up and deliver on the move away from concrete as the primary product. Mr. Barry mentioned that 90% of properties are built using concrete. That feeds into the other elements mentioned in the opening statements in respect of the likes of hemp and other means of providing natural insulation within properties. There are a lot of points there but maybe a few remarks could be made on my observations.
Mr. Pat Barry:
We do need to move towards a culture, particularly in renovation, where there is more oversight. Putting it all back to the SEAI would be quite an ask. It is probably something that needs to be dealt with in the context of building control rather than the SEAI. Because we will be doing so much more renovation, we need to develop more of a culture of supervision of that renovation among the professionals and within building control. On the question around self-regulation, we need to strengthen building control. I do not think they have sufficient resources yet. We need to strengthen building control in order that they can carry out more inspections.
On the capacity of the timber sector, there is great capacity because the private forests planted in the 1980s and 1990s are all now coming to maturity. Most of that timber is being exported and used in the UK. In terms of the actual timber, while we have the capacity now, for the next 20 or 30 years, there is an issue with replanting in order to continue its sustainability into the future. We definitely have the timber. We have a lot of timber frame companies that can deliver. Many of them are exporting as well. There are some very good companies. We definitely have the capacity there. We can build more capacity if we can increase the demand in Ireland. The first step is to get more timber used in low-rise development and then we need to move towards engineered timbers and cross-laminated timber. We have the capacity to produce that not only for Ireland but also for export across Europe.
In terms of hemp, this is another opportunity. Hemp is rapidly renewable. We are having difficulties in getting farmers to plant timber because the land is taken up for 30 years. It may be easier to persuade them and they are interested in planting hemp. That is something that we could potentially do more quickly by setting up production facilities.
Dr. Josephina Lindblom:
I do not know about the specific situation in Ireland but what I hear from other countries is that there has to be an energy audit before a new building is handed over. They are starting to look at changing that energy audit into a whole-life carbon audit. This could of course also be done in respect of renovations, checking the performance at the end of the work. I would also like to stress that across the EU, it is rare that architectural studies include life cycle thinking. I want to flag that to the committee. One can easily become an architect anywhere in Europe without knowing about circularity or life cycle thinking.
They can be small courses, which can be added to the programme by choice, but it is not part of the core education. That could also be something to think about.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
Yes, certainly. Perhaps I will use the opportunity to make a plea to some extent for research in the field. We talk like we know buildings well but really, our knowledge of buildings is very poor. We are making a huge intervention here with the national retrofit programme without knowing exactly how certain building typologies actually perform. I think Deputy Alan Farrell mentioned historic properties. One property in six in this country is traditionally built and those properties will operate very differently to a modern-day construction. How we retrofit them and the materials that we use to do so are very different. That has to be understood by designers and people who install them. There is always the likelihood that we will make the wrong decisions unless we increase our knowledge base. As Dr. Lindblom has said, we are trying to increase the focus, within architecture and engineering schools in UCD and around the country, on circulatory life cycle thinking. There is also space for designers and installers to upskill in the understanding of materials and how buildings perform, particularly in our damp climate, where many of our traditionally-built buildings contain a lot of moisture. How we deal with that is key.
I wish to bolster Dr. Kinnane's call for research. It occurs to me, from listening to this conversation today, that the BER as it currently stands would really benefit from a revamp and a refocus. The idea of a carbon statement for a property, whether it is commercial or residential, would be really beneficial to the sector, because it would re-evaluate what it is we are trying to achieve. I am not convinced, nor have I ever been convinced, that the BER was effective in what it was trying to achieve. I think that the call for additional research or a requirement to have a statement brought about for buildings across the country or both, would be very beneficial. I thank the witnesses for their contributions.
I would like to focus on the area of hemp. Quite often, the production and use of hemp has certain connotations, perhaps because the plant itself looks like marijuana. Perhaps that is where those associations come from. The Chair will be glad to know I am going to mention west Cork again. There are two fantastic students from Newcestown in west Cork, Cian and Caoimhe Walsh, who go to St. Brogan's College. The reason I am mentioning them is that they won the ECO-UNESCO young environmentalist award for research they did on the use of hemp. They have an Instagram page on the subject. Their research was astounding and incredibly eye-opening in terms of the potential uses for hemp right across different areas, particularly in respect of construction and the making of hemp blocks and hempcrete, its sustainability, the potential for carbon storage in the hemp blocks themselves and the carbon sequestration value of growing the plant. The hemp plant stores more carbon than the same area covered by deciduous trees. My point is that perhaps this is an area that we should really focus on and ramp up production and research in. Hemp could potentially be the future, not just in making our buildings more sustainable, but in making farming more sustainable through sequestration. I also believe that from a biodiversity perspective, the hemp plant has potential benefits compared to other crops that do not have the same biodiversity value. Is hemp the future?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
Hemp has huge potential. I have worked with hemp, although not so much in recent years. Previously, when I was in Trinity College, we did a lot of work on trying to characterise the thermal and acoustic properties of hemp. It is a wonderful building material. It has great potential. It sequesters an awful lot of carbon over its lifetime. One can grow multiple crops within a single year. Using hemp is a no-brainer. I have retrofitted my own house with hemp insulation. Hemp is a winner really and we would love to see more focus on it.
I have spoken to Professor Tom Woolley, a practising architect in Northern Ireland who is also involved in Hemp Federation of Ireland. He said that in the last year a large number of farmers have been moving to grow hemp. He said there is a gap between farmers and the designers who are keen to use hemp. To make hempcrete one takes off the woody core of the hemp stalk, chip it and mix it with lime or cement, as the case may be, but there is no processing facility for that in the country. We use hemp fibres and mash them into a wool product to make hemp insulation. There is no processing facility for that either. Professor Woolley and anybody involved in the hemp industry would like that to be funded by the Government because it is hard to understand.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
Hemp is being used at a quite a low scale at the moment. Part L of the building regulations focuses on decreasing the U-value to very low levels, which makes hempcrete an outlier as a material because to reach the required U-value one needs between 600 mm and 700 mm thick walls, which is only practical in detached once-off rural developments. There could be more space in the building regulations for a whole-life carbon evaluation of these kinds of materials, not just their potential operational thermal resistance. They cannot be compared with polyisocyanurate, PIR, insulation, phenolic foam insulation or polymer-based insulation products in operation but they have very good thermal mass qualities to store heat and operate quite differently. A proper whole-life carbon analysis of hemp would show its potential and that should be enabled within the regulations.
The use of hemp should be incentivised. Certainly, hemp-wool insulation products are comparable with rock-wool and mineral-wool products in its thermal conductivity. There is plenty of scope for using that. The problem is that the product is more expensive because it is more of a niche ecological-based product.
Mr. Pat Barry:
One of the benefits of getting professionals to measure - this is the experience in France and Holland - is that once people start to measure, they naturally gravitate towards using materials like this. Again, we have to remove some of the Government barriers. There seem to be issues that block the growing of hemp. It is difficult and the lack of a production facility is stopping that. There are people who want to grow it and make these materials so we must facilitate them.
I have had a number of discussions on hemp in recent months, including with Mr. Paul McCourt, the CEO of Celtic Wind, a company based in Dundalk, County Louth. A number of farmers on the Cooley Peninsula have grown hemp for a large number of years. It is farcical that there is no production facility in this country and that hemp must be exported and then imported. If we had a production facility on the island of Ireland, we could become a leader in the exportation of hemp to other parts of the world where it is currently used. Hemp is a tried and tested sustainable building method. The fact that it is not properly utilised is a poor reflection on this country.
I did not know anything about hemp production until six months ago when Mr. McCourt reached out and decided to meet me to discuss the matter. It must be hard for people like him as they are left feeling that they are just voices in the wind. The witnesses present have been very clear that hemp is a sustainable building material. Is it only through Government funding that we can have a production facility on the island of Ireland?
We must consider three aspects of hemp production. First, infrastructure is needed which means we need a facility.
Second, we need to provide a clear educational programme to the wider society, the Government, politicians and farmers, in particular, because hemp production, etc. could be a real money maker for people who are based in the agriculture sector. Third, some aspects of hemp production need to be legislatively signed off.
Today, it has been great to hear clear comments from both Dr. Kinnane and Mr. Barry that hemp production would be very useful in the future. We, as a committee, could explore this subject too.
Timber has been discussed a lot today. Does Mr. Barry think that the building regulations need to be dramatically altered or just need small changes in order to encourage more people to use timber?
Mr. Pat Barry:
It is more small changes in the guidance. At the moment it is part B, or Technical Guidance Document B. Some of the additional guidance released by the building control office has made it very difficult to implement. A few developers have asked the council about building in cross-laminated timber and have tried to go down that route. Even the Office of Public Procurement has tried to go down that route but, unfortunately, it ran into a complete roadblock.
Mr. Pat Barry:
Yes. There are two key issues - fire safety and insurance. It can be difficult to get insurance. There are ways to get around the insurance issue. I mean it is possible to set up a captive insurance by the industry to cover that. However, fire safety would appear to be the block a the moment.
Those comments seem to indicate that tight regulations are restrictive. I mean, in terms of fire safety and insurance, and the existing building regulations, the regulations that were put in place over the last ten or 20 years have made it more difficult to build with timber and that is why there has been such a shift to 90% concrete use in the last number of years. We must re-calibrate and analyse why such a shift took place. Perhaps it was due to fire safety. However, it would be right for the Government to re-analyse things. In a changing world where we must reach targets by 2030 and retrofit, then hemp concrete would be really quick and easy to use.
My next question is on the proposed minimum energy performance standards by 2030 in terms of the building directives. So the proposal to introduce the minimum energy performance standards across the entire residential sector by 2030. What frameworks need to be put in place today to reach the standards by 2030?
Mr. Pat Barry:
It requires revising the performance requirements within Part L. The other part of it is moving towards disclosure of embodied carbons. There are a number of actions highlighted in the climate action plan. We have to set up databases of materials.
We have to set up an agreed methodology. We have the levels methodology but there will be some additional requirements where we must give default data for certain materials and there are key regulations around how the data is used. A couple of infrastructural things also need to be in place to enable it, including more training and education to get all of our construction workers upskilled in energy efficiency and getting the whole industry geared up for it. It is very important that it is all communicated well in advance.
One issue with the implementation of the nearly zero energy directive is that it is always beneficial for Government to keep communicating it back to the industry to let it know. In some cases, even when the regulations were introduced in 2017 and 2019, some in the industry were still taken a little back, even though it had been requirement since 2010 under the energy performance of buildings directive. Communication is, therefore, vital.
I thank the witnesses for the excellent albeit very worrying presentations. I am struck by Mr. Barry's points that under the current building regulations, there is no requirement for measurement of carbon emissions in construction beyond that associated with operational energy and that the Government's ambitious construction and renovation programme over the next 20 years, which are really critical years, could lead to excessive emissions and waste if embodied carbon is not considered. How have we got ourselves into this position? It seems to be State short-sightedness at its worst.
Mr. Barry spoke about the huge gap with regard to embodied carbon. With the plans for construction and retrofitting, have we actually started running before we can walk? Could this be seen to be that we are running? What we are hearing is certainly food for thought. It seems to expose a kind of silo thinking.
Dr. Kinnane spoke of retrofitting the retrofits. This certainly would send an unwelcome chill down anybody's spine. I am worried that there is a lot of silo thinking here when what we actually need is joined-up thinking, for example, in addressing vacancy and reclaiming property. We all know the old saying, "I would not start from here." Why are we starting here, given that we have all of these gaps and lapses that appear to be known, yet we have commenced retrofitting? Dr. Kinnane is saying we might not be doing it right and we might have to go back and retrofit these retrofits in another ten years. There is a lot of good work going on and there are a lot of data. To follow up on the comments of my colleague, Deputy Darren O'Rourke, who is in charge so that we can use this properly? This seems to be a bit of a horror show, from my reading of the two presentations. I am also interested in the EU perspective from Dr. Lindblom on this.
It is a very interesting question that may fall between different Departments in that one part relates to housing, planning and local government, while energy and emissions relate to environment and climate.
Is it the case that it is falling between stools?
Mr. Pat Barry:
Our carbon emissions are divided up into sectors, and those are reported according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change format. They are broken down into: buildings, which only covers operational carbon; electricity production; waste; land use; and industrial. What has been missed is that under industrial emissions, a very large chunk of those emissions relates to buildings, another chunk of transport emissions relates to buildings and a chunk of waste emissions also relates to buildings. What has been missed is that these are all connected to form embodied carbon, and construction has not been regarded as a separate sector. This is what has happened. Under the climate action plan, there has been a lot of focus on each sector in isolation and not enough in seeing how they are connected. Consider a random example such as transport or minimum car parking requirements. In urban or similar areas, the minimum car parking requirements can be such that one would have to build an entire underground car park. We are talking about 25 tonnes of carbon to build that underground car parking space. We are not seeing the connections between everything. When we start to connect up transport, transport infrastructure, buildings and building infrastructure, waste, the excess use of materials and industry, we get a much more rounded picture and we can actually tackle carbon in a much more effective way, rather than trying to hand over a bit to the Department of Transport and another to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. We need to have a lot more conversations between Departments.
Mr. Pat Barry:
It is all covered, but it is the connections between them that need to be seen. Even when we look at how we build, we have a lot of dispersed development. The more dispersed development becomes, the larger homes get. The larger homes get, the higher their embodied carbon. The further away they are, the more transport carbon is needed in order to transport the people. The larger the homes, the higher their operational carbon because one must heat and light larger areas. It is really down to making the connection between all of these different components and seeing that compact growth can help us to build more compact homes. It can free people up from the need to drive and from the need to own cars. A car is a source of embodied carbon. According to an EU report, the amount involved for an electric car it is approximately 8 tonnes. What we really need to do is connect up of all of these dots in order to reduce carbon.
Mr. Pat Barry:
The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications needs to take a much more holistic approach and needs to see how it all impacts from one sector to another. Land use is another issue given that we have sprawling development. We get carbon loss from clearing topsoil for dispersed developments. We need to have one Department in charge of seeing how every other Department impacts on carbon emissions in every sector.
That is a very interesting point.
It is a broader debate about how we reduce emissions, both operational and embodied, and achieving net zero. It has previously been suggested at the committee that the Department of the Taoiseach should be the lead body overseeing much of this. Otherwise Departments of equal status and Ministers will vie with each other and then there will not be joined-up thinking. That is certainly something we have come across before at the committee but the point is well made that this is a serious issue in this sector as well.
Senator Higgins has arrived.
There is a lot of data but nobody seems to be in charge. I am wondering would Dr. Kinnane have any suggestions. We have started retrofitting and he is talking about how we might need to be retrofitting the retrofits in another ten years.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
The reality is we are already retrofitting the retrofits. There is lots of anecdotal evidence and lots of actual evidence that a lot of retrofitting was done inappropriately. That has caused problems, especially with traditional construction, with heavy moisture content within envelopes. Many vapour-impermeable products are being used to retrofit those buildings all the time and this is trapping moisture, allowing for growth of moulds and mildews, creating bad air quality and creating poor health conditions for people. We are seeing a lot of that already and it is generally due to a lack of knowledge across the industry and a lack of training for a long time, which we are trying to correct now. Again, it emphasises the point we really need to train the installers ahead of installation because dealing with different buildings of different construction types is not something every contractor has in their understanding. That is what they need to be trained in before they implement installations, otherwise we will end up pulling those retrofits apart again.
Dr. Josephina Lindblom:
I thank the Deputy. I recognise her discussion from elsewhere as well. The fact is we have focused for a long time on one part of the building, that is, the use phase of the building. Ireland is not alone there. In addition, when we look at the EU policy we have something called the energy performance of buildings directive and that is so far only looking at the use phase, though we are now changing that. We also have had for quite some time the waste framework directive that was referred to previously as well. However, there has not been any real thought as to the more holistic view, that is, the life cycle thinking and how that also has a direct impact on our climate targets. That was newly introduced a number of years ago but now this is changing and, as I said, in the Commission we are now taking several steps at the building level but also at the construction product level, which goes into the building to build it. We should, therefore, be much more aware of how we can assess these with respect to carbon.
There was not data before. A main reason this has not been done before is it was considered complex. Life cycle thinking is not straightforward. It is easy to understand the concept of an energy-efficient building but it is more complicated, or more complex at least, to understand what whole-life carbon is and how do I know and how do I assess it, etc.
That is why we have been working for quite some time now, together with the sector, to develop this common language in Level(s), the tool I mentioned before, so we have a number of indicators we agree on and a method of how to use that. As we have it we can, as of last year, include this kind of thinking in different building-related policies based on Level(s). The Commission started doing this last year. We see, as I said, how a number of member states - not many but several - are going ahead and starting to use this, with a higher level of ambition than what the Commission currently has, to develop this more quickly in their own legislation. Exactly how they do that and what structure they are using I cannot say but I can of course help the committee get in contact with those who are working on this.
I thank the Chairman. I am in my office on the campus. It has probably been asked in many different ways but I wanted to ask again about the SEAI and the oversight and standards we need to have to ensure we meet the standards required in retrofitting. When I asked a question of SEAI representatives some weeks ago I was assured its rating system after retrofitting was up to scratch. Maybe our present guests will comment on what kind of oversight we could have that would improve our knowledge of this and ability to check the standards are correct.
My second question is brief. I think it was Dr. Kinnane who said we have one of the highest rates of vacancy in the whole of Europe. Would he like to comment on why he thinks that is? Do other jurisdictions take a much more interventionist approach and attitude to vacant property and dereliction? Should we insist on a more interventionist approach in this State?
Mr. Pat Barry:
The oversight is challenging for the SEAI because it is a very large programme. On the one hand you have contractors who would say their current auditing is quite difficult and they struggle with the oversight. It may need a reforming of the way it is done and maybe transitioning it more towards having more professionals involved in renovation. One of the big barriers to having professionals involved is if you take the VAT rate on professional services, it is 23% versus 13%. It is very difficult to get homeowners to get proper professional advice because the advice itself ends up being quite expensive, so there is a tendency to go directly to approved contractors. It is a combination of improving the regulatory oversight, having more construction professionals involved in the process and not going directly to the contractor to do this renovation. I do not think it ever works when contractors are working on their own. You always need good oversight. A professional is looking building by building at what exactly suits this building, what measures suit this particular home, what type of insulation is needed for this home and he or she is seeing what the contractor is doing.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
There are people much more qualified to talk about vacancy than I am.
My colleagues at the UCD centre for Irish towns study vacancy and the reasons for it, especially in town situations. One of the obvious reasons is that the nature of our planning and development has historically been on the edge of towns and cities, as opposed to within them. We certainly need to move to a model of compact growth within urban development areas linked to transportation systems and to stop the spread of our urban growth on the edge of towns.
As Mr. Barry outlined, that will have considerable benefits from a climate perspective. It cuts down the need for private transportation. It cuts down the amount of operational emissions related to transportation. Ireland is quite unique in that 42% of our 2 million homes are detached buildings. That means from an energy and building-envelope perspective we have four walls and a roof to treat rather than two walls in the case of a mid-terrace development or one wall in the case of an apartment development. There are considerable benefits in a number of categories if we plan better and stop sprawling development.
We need to incentivise people to move back into urban centres - towns, in particular - and to renovate vacant properties within towns. We need to make centres of towns more attractive. We need to make urban environments easier to live in for people who are willing to live on main street.
I have a couple of questions on the public role and the issues of demolition and vacancy. Then I will ask two short follow-up questions. In terms of the public role, the new renovation wave policy document talks about public buildings and social infrastructure showing the way. There has been considerable focus on building this sector. Do we need a stronger emphasis on the public role in terms of public buildings? They are not exactly the low-hanging fruit, but they do not have to be built at the desire of the market because the State has the keys.
It is anticipated under the renovation wave that the requirements with regard to public buildings and social infrastructure will extend to all public administration levels. I imagine local development plans will need to factor it in as well. Should we be doing more front-loading on public buildings, and not just social housing? Would doing so give us the opportunity to set a higher quality threshold? Dr. Kinnane mentioned the danger of a contractor-led one-stop shop. Every individual who goes in is talking to people who are experts. If the State has a key role in procurement, does front-loading a great deal of procurement, for example in retrofitting, give it an opportunity to raise standards and set a high bar for what it expects? This trains the new sector up to be at a higher level when the private contractors start getting involved. This is better than having individual households leading out first because they do not have the same tools we do in terms of quality. How important is it that we have quality public procurement? How important is it to go for a quality weighting, rather than a price weighting only, in our public procurement policy?
There are two issues in terms of solutions to vacancy. Both speakers have made some concrete proposals, one of which involved the idea of legislation on demolition. Considerable emissions seem to be lost by demolition. I have heard different figures but it might take 40 to 80 years for that energy and those emissions to be reclaimed. Of course it is the next ten years that matter. Should we set, if not a full moratorium, a much higher regulation on demolition versus renovation or extension of buildings?
In terms of vacancy, it may have been Mr. Barry who talked about discouraging demolition but also streamlining measures around vacancy and bringing that back into play. What measures really support us on bringing vacant buildings into play? Mr. Barry gave a huge figure. It could be a megatonne off our embodied carbon bill if we were to retrofit 100,000 vacant homes. Will the speakers comment on that? I am interested on the EU perspective on vacancy, renovation and the public-building-first role. I will follow up afterwards.
Mr. Pat Barry:
We need to much faster on public procurement. It needs to be applied immediately to all buildings. Unfortunately, the private sector is leading more because it is driven by taxonomy and is required to do it by investors. We need that same situation in public procurement. We need to start with social housing. Some of the approved housing bodies we have been talking to have difficulty in drawing down funding to renovate their stock. We should start there. They have in some cases hundreds of houses that they could do in one go. That is the place to start.
On streamlining vacant buildings, we have grants such as the living city grant and conservation and SEAI grants. They all need to be streamlined into one substantial grant based around the total carbon mitigation of renovating a home in a town centre over and above another home. One will get a bigger carbon bang for one's buck from renovating those homes in town centres than a very large detached bungalow which may not deliver the same impact.
I mentioned the question of limitations on demolition but also the importance of accounting for emissions from demolition. Mr. Barry mentioned we move towards not just the energy rating of building but carbon accounting. How important is it to account for the emissions from demolition?
Mr. Pat Barry:
It is very important. Demolition is a no-brainer. We cannot afford to waste the sunk carbon that exists in our buildings. Throwing all of that to landfill rather than recycling or even upcycling it in any way and putting a new building with higher-embodied carbon materials than the original in its place is a totally unsustainable process. We need a moratorium on that. We need to move away from this idea that whatever money we have we just use for construction and keep constructing more and newer buildings all the time. It is totally out of sync with the aim of reducing our carbon emissions considering the amount of carbon that is involved in that process.
We have a section in the newest iteration of the report that will soon be published. Carbon emissions from public buildings are quite shocking for a much smaller set of buildings than the commercial or non-residential sector. We see almost the same amount of operational carbon emissions from public buildings excluding housing. The public sector has said it will lead on this through retrofit plans and it needs to. We recently went through what I know was an exceptional winter but on UCD campus the heating was up and all the windows were open for ventilation reasons. Again, it is the wrong decision.
On vacancy, I mentioned 1 megatonne. We will have updated values on that in the new report. If we retrofit, 1 megatonne is for 100,000 homes where we use an embodied carbon.
That is conservative, because it is estimated we have up to 180,000 vacant homes. It might not be possible to retrofit all of them, but even if it was possible to take 100,000 of those homes - and we are estimating 40% embodied carbon in this context, relative to the cost of new construction, which is an involved construction process - we are still saying it would be possible to shave 1 megatonne off the embodied carbon build of construction. If we are going to complete 400,000 homes, and we can do 100,000 of those by retrofitting properties now boarded up in the middle of run-down towns, that would be a win-win-win outcome across so many sectors of society.
I was asking about the public piece, the vacancy embodied and accounting for the full life cycle. I refer to accounting for emissions from demolition. As a follow-up query, regarding the European heritage green paper, we have focused a great deal on the new skills required for retrofitting and inspection, and accounting in that regard, but we must also consider older heritage and craft skills. The good news is that this undertaking is employment intensive. The activities involving heritage and craft skills were time intensive and for that reason they fell out of use. The European green paper on heritage and climate has some concrete ideas in this regard. I would be interested to hear comments on this aspect of the matter.
I have two more weird questions and then Ms Lindblom can answer. One concerns sunlight. Theories of sunlight are grievously omitted in local development plans and strategies. It is one of the gaps in how compact growth is designed. Compact growth seems to be designed without a theory of sunlight. Sunlight is important concerning energy emissions, because if we have buildings that do not get light, if there are effectively tunnels in the city that are dark all day long, that means electricity will be used for most of the day. I ask Ms Lindblom to comment on the importance of the theory of light and sunlight regarding emissions.
Finally, and to follow up the Chair’s point, we cannot afford to be installing new fossil fuel boilers. We certainly cannot afford to do so in public buildings or in publicly procured or supported buildings. Retrofitting to systems that use gas has been spoken of, but that seems to be another example of a situation we will need to retrofit out of soon after initial installation.
On a point related to Senator Higgins's final question, if the timeframe for the implementation of the directive from Europe is 2027, and our national legislation, in the form of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, has enshrined within it the objective of reducing emissions by 51% by 2030, and the directive also allows for the accounting of embodied emissions, which is something we have not done up to now, will that mean we will be playing with different numbers in 2027? The witnesses can correct me if I am wrong on this point. We are dealing now with approximately 67 megatonnes in this context. Through the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, inventory, we are trying to reduce that figure to 32 megatonnes or 33 megatonnes. If we change the accounting system, however, by including embodied carbon emissions, which are significant across our society, are we going to find ourselves in an extremely difficult place?
I would like to follow up Chair’s follow-up to my follow-up. The national development plan is heavily front-loaded with requests for tenders and procurement. Significant public expenditure will be devoted to extensive building projects, and consequently there will be large numbers of requests for tenders and many contracts issued. I refer to ensuring we do not end up with many supplementary claims because the relevant standards increase while projects are being built and developed. Should we be factoring into our procurement contracts, upfront, for the national development plan whatever measures will be needed regarding embodied emissions in future? Should we do that to avoid a situation where we have signed off on a pile of contracts, only for the rules to change and we suddenly find every contract already signed will be one that will enable contractors to come back and make supplementary claims?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
Yes, I will do so quickly. The EPA inventory should account for all production-based emissions in the nation. Therefore, it will account for all production of cement, which is a huge factor. I think I referred to 90% in the report.
We export about 40% of that cement, and we also import all our metals. For the exact figures regarding the balance of trade, I would have to look at the numbers, but it goes from approximately 3.5 megatonnes to 4.5 megatonnes annually. There is a balance. Therefore, if we were to account for consumption-based emissions, that total would increase, and we probably should be accounting for it.
Mr. Pat Barry:
There was one on sunlight. I agree that sunlight should be included in plans and strategies and some development plans do require sunlight calculations. Sunlight and daylight, however, should be considered factors in this regard. I also agree regarding the front-loading of the national development plan. We should be moving to a net-zero carbon emissions specification for all developments from now on. To take an example, a hospital proposed to be designed in 2022 will not, potentially, be completed until 2035. Therefore, a net-zero carbon standard must be applied to the full life cycle of buildings like that from the very start.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
On the Senator's question about gas boilers, I am not sure that I am fully qualified to answer it, but I think we should be phasing them out and moving to a fabric-first approach for new buildings and retrofitting. We should be minimising the amount of auxiliary heat required and supplying that through electricity and green sources. Gas Networks Ireland has placed significant focus on the integration of hydrogen with gas, and on decarbonising the gas network. Those may be technologies that will work, but we will require a great deal of energy to create that hydrogen in the first place and to process it. We do not, as yet, have those clean energy generation capabilities in place. Not only one technology will be required in this regard, but a mix of them. I also agree with the lack of focus on the ingress of daylight and sunlight into developments. It is something we always tried to put an emphasis on in architectural schools. In practical terms, however, that aspect always falls off the table a bit. One technology which has proved to be a major success in the last decade has been light emitting diode, LED, lighting. It has reduced the energy intensity of lighting considerably. If we could do the same across other technologies-----
Yes, I regard this as the major gap in compact growth. Big tower buildings are being designed which families do not want to live in. I say that as a city centre dweller. I want families to live in, and to be able to live in, the city centre. They should be able to be at home and to have daylight.
Dr. Josephina Lindblom:
I will make several points. One question concerned public procurement. In the new proposal for the energy efficiency directive, which contains articles on the public procurement of buildings, it is made clear that it should encompass all public buildings. That is right. It is no longer just concerned with governmental buildings, as before. Equally, if we are going to talk about any kind of low-hanging fruit, then it should involve public buildings. They should really lead the way with public procurement in this regard. At the European Commission, we are developing green public procurement criteria based on levels. These criteria, of course, will very much link into the entire carbon discussion we are having. This will be not just in the context of new buildings but also for buildings being renovated. This is an important aspect. It could drive demand and awareness, as well as skills and knowledge in the sector.
I take this opportunity to stress an interesting French study.
It looked at typical renovation cases in different parts of France and examined how whole-life carbon can be reduced or minimised in those renovation projects without necessarily having to do a fully-fledged life cycle assessment. If the focus is limited to, let us say, ten standard renovation projects, what would the renovation project have to do in order to reduce the whole-life carbon as opposed to if they just did any kind of renovation? The study has some interesting results which can be implemented throughout the country. I am suggesting that could be something interesting to look at in Ireland. The French authorities have realised that because of the sheer number of renovations they want to happen, they expect the embodied carbon will in total be double that of the embedded carbon from new buildings. That is not per project but on a macro level. They want to have a lot more renovation projects as opposed to new-build projects.
I agree with what has been said regarding sunlight. Within the framework levels I have talked about, through which we can assess and report on building performance, there is an indicator for lighting. The Senator is right that it plays an important role both for the environment and for the health and comfort of the occupants of buildings.
There was a question about whether we will be playing with different numbers in 2027 and 2030. Those are the two years that are mentioned in the Commission proposal on the energy performance of buildings directive. What we have there for 2027 and 2030 is that it will be necessary to assess and report. We will not include limit values. We should know more by then but we will not come up with a whole-life carbon limit value at that point at time, at least not as it looks today. By that time, it will be required to assess and report on those and we will start to actually generate data.
The proposal also suggests that buildings should come with energy performance certificates when they are being sold or rented. There should also be an indication as to whether buildings have gone through this assessment and reporting of whole-life carbon because, as I said, the proposal suggests we start with larger buildings and gradually take on the whole building stock. This EPC should flag from the beginning if whole-life carbon has been taken into account or not.
As to the question on European heritage skills, I apologise but I do not follow that topic so I do not know. I can, of course, put the committee in contact with relevant colleagues of mine but it is not an area in which I have expertise.
I suggest correspondence might be helpful. This is not about heritage as a goal but more about using the skills that have been built up in the heritage sphere as one of the tools that can be useful in building renovation and the minimisation of carbon.
I will come back in to raise the issue of hemp. What are the barriers with respect to hemp? What opportunities are there in that area? We have already talked about some of these matters. In realistic terms, is there any indication of the scale of the opportunity in the Irish context?
What sort of contribution might an Irish industry make to our building needs, whether with respect to new builds or retrofitting? What level of displacement could it achieve for more carbon-intensive alternatives? Has there been any indication or assessment of that? Perhaps our guests could give some sense of what might be the useful next steps in terms of beginning to realise or explore that opportunity.
My question is for Dr. Kinnane. It relates to the national retrofitting plan. We are asking people to apply for loans. We are handing over taxpayers' money in grants to retrofit these homes. I do not feel that Dr. Kinnane is satisfied with the quality control involved or that we can stand over the quality of work relating to the current retrofitting scheme. Dr. Kinnane has said that in some cases, homes with a building energy rating of A2 are performing at C levels. Something that always strikes me about Ireland is that when nobody is in charge, nobody is responsible. Do we need a carbon tsar to take this on and make sure that taxpayer's money is not being wasted and to ensure we are not asking people to go into debt to retrofit their homes when we cannot stand over the quality control of that work? I am concerned about Dr. Kinnane's presentation.
Mr. Pat Barry:
It is difficult to quantify exactly. It would be an alternative construction method and it can be used in different ways. One of the ways in which we will be trying to speed up the construction of homes is through the use of modern methods of construction. We will be considering the potential to use modular construction with timber combined with products such as insulation that can be made from hemp. It is difficult to quantify exactly what the potential is in that regard. When one is trying to develop an industry like this, one is not only looking at Ireland because this has to be done on a scale that meets more than just the needs of Ireland. We have such a cyclical construction sector that we need to consider exports as well. We might consider the success of the Coillte companies, such as SMARTPLY. MEDITE SMARTPLY products were developed from the forestry sector for export. As a result, the company was able to ride through the financial crisis when there was a downturn in construction here. We should consider developing a scale of industry that thinks big and thinks at a European level as well as an Irish level.
That is something in which members of the committee are very interested. Is there an association out there conducting a sectoral development analysis? I do not expect that our guests would conduct such an analysis, but are they aware of any organisation or association with which we could speak or to which we could reach out in that regard?
Mr. Pat Barry:
Hemp Cooperative Ireland might be one such group. Teagasc has done a lot of studies on the growth of hemp. Enterprise Ireland has been looking at the potential to set up facilities. We could put the committee in contact with the relevant officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Teagasc.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
To repeat and maybe add something, when we talk about buildings, we are talking about really complex systems with lots going on and many varying parameters within them. When we try to reductively reduce the national development plan to wrapping buildings in insulation and maybe putting heat pumps into some of them, it is a very simple solution to a very complex problem. That is where the performance gap comes from. It is almost impossible to believe you could take a G rated building of 450 kW hours per metre squared per year one year, and then move it up to a 25 kW hours per metre squared per year following just installation of 100 mm of insulation wrap or something like that. What we need is holistic thinking and a much broader thinking on retrofit. That needs to be matched with more nuanced or a greater complexity to our regulation because the regulations have very much focused on the thermal resistance of the fabric and the constant reduction of that as a solution whereas we have many different matters that need to be considered, such as ventilation, dampness and heating systems and the balance between these. The general answer to the question is, as I said earlier, we do not know nearly as much as we think we know about buildings. There is a lack of knowledge and a lack of evidence. We do not have the data. We have written studies that have looked at cohorts of 12 to 20 buildings and said that a certain percentage of them perform below their design value but that may or may not be representative of the national average. We do not have that data. Getting that data would be really useful to bring greater understanding about where we are going here.
To echo the Deputy's fear with the national retrofit plan, my fear is that we rush to retrofit without having the evidence and the knowledge that we are doing the right thing. The SEAI has been given much more funding in recent times and it is funding what we hope is good research. For example, we are doing a big study for it on traditional building fabrics and trying to monitor the thermal and hydrothermal, the moisture related properties of those fabrics. We will be able to feed that back to make recommendations about retrofit of those buildings and particularly complex building typologies. We are at a very early stage in our understanding of buildings.
Around the world we are rushing to retrofit without the necessary evidence and knowledge base. There are certain things we can do but we need not to think that we are going to solve it overnight. In that case, we would create the situation where we have to retrofit again the retrofit buildings.
I also asked about a carbon tsar. Dr. Kinnane is right, in that there was a time when we painted old houses and then damp started forming inside the house because the materials the house was constructed of were meant to be able to breathe. We do not know everything. We are never at the stage where we know everything. Is Dr. Kinnane saying that we should start retrofitting at a slower level, with maybe more insulation? I am worried about all this money we are giving out on retrofitting and asking people to go into debt. Does he think we should have a carbon tsar, somebody who could really keep up to date so that we could move quickly when more information comes in and that somebody in charge could direct all the different organisations? We have so many different organisations. What does he think about a carbon tsar?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
Having a central office in the Department of the Taoiseach or otherwise, somebody who is drawing the links between all the different factors and Departments, is a very good idea. I think it is necessary because if there are a great many fragmented organisations trying to implement this, it is going to lead to problems. It is a good idea. With more funding for research, we can inform process and strategy. With more post-occupancy evaluation, we will get data that tells us whether we are doing the right thing, or the wrong thing. That is how we should do it rather than rush to retrofit everything and not know whether it is the right solution or not.
To break somewhat from the party line, I think the best idea would be to give every householder in the country a €500 voucher to buy draught proofing or minor measures in the local hardware store and do a shallow retrofit on the majority of buildings in the first place.
It should be said that the retrofit plan is not something that anyone is trying to achieve in a year. It is actually a multi-decade plan. It is a nascent plan as well, and things are going to change, evolve and improve and, it is hoped, take on many of the points the witnesses have made very well.
That public-first push allows for the raising of quality standards. Following on from the demolition and materials issue, and Deputy Bruton may even come in on it, around that recycling and reuse of materials piece, clearly one of the things it seems we need, and the witnesses might comment on this, is more public jobs, effectively, in areas of inspection and standards and making sure it is not solely left to contractors but that there is public quality control and skills. This has come up in other areas where we have talked about the need for increasing the capacity of public inspectors.
Another area that strikes me as possibly needing reform is the health and safety standards. This is not to dilute - nobody wants to do that - but to look at whether our health measures and things like that need to be re-examined, and this would not be to remove them but to look for repurposed materials. Many of them are designed on the assumption of new materials. That is maybe at EU level as well as at local level. Is it a case that we need some really concrete research on issues such as reusing steel or things that might not be by-products, as discussed earlier, but are actually high-cost materials in terms of their environmental impact and full cycle?
I remember when I was young, I went around salvage yards all the time finding quarry tiles and that kind of thing. Does that whole area of salvage, which became a very peripheral part of the building piece but was a very central part for years, need to be almost reimagined back into a new era?
It is music to my ears to hear Dr. Kinnane say we should start with the not-so-deep measures, such as heat controls, draught-stopping and all of those things that are very impactful. Under the retrofitting plan, we would still have 1.5 million homes untouched. These are certainly low-hanging fruit from that point of view.
On the issue of management of the whole process, we have a circular economy Bill, on which we have made a report. One of the central things we recommended was that the circular economy should be reported in tandem with the climate action plan and that should be overseen by the Taoiseach. It is not that we have not considered the leadership issue of circularity, which goes well beyond just the inventory of carbon emissions and embraces the embodied issue. We have made that recommendation.
I have two short questions. Forgive me if I have missed it but how do we get public procurement to move more rapidly in this direction? I was surprised to hear the EU’s taxonomy is only for private investment. Surely we should start by making sure what we control ourselves complies with taxonomies and life cycle thinking and so on. It is certainly not my impression it does at the moment. It would be interesting to hear the European experience and how public procurement has changed to reflect this.
The other question is also looking at the European experience.
How can we create a market for these more carbon-sensitive approaches, either recovered material from demolition or elsewhere or for products with a lower carbon content? Is it through the carbon pricing, the carbon tax, if you like? Is that the common method or are there other methods to stimulate the market for these better products from a life cycle point of view?
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
I will deal with Senator Higgins's questions first. I absolutely agree that there is a greater necessity for increased State employment to monitor this and to control retrofit and housing development.
On the point of innovation and materials, in our small country we have some very innovative players, particularly in the alternative low-carbon cement industry, who are doing very good work. We also do considerable research in that field. Cement is our home industry almost. It is hard to imagine construction without concrete. Even timber construction requires some level of concrete. Finding a solution to the 5% to 8% global emissions that result from cement is key to mitigating the worst of climate change.
On the salvaging of materials, the European Commission has put considerable money into research projects focused on the idea that materials and buildings should have what we call material passports. If I put 1,000 bricks onto the side of my house, those bricks should have a passport associated with them indicating the construction quality, what type they were and how they were bound together. A plan should also be developed for the end of life or dismantling of those bricks in order that they can be reused in the industry. I do not know what the next step will be to get it implemented after that research.
Mr. Pat Barry:
One of the challenges with the reuse of materials is the certification process and whether the reused material meets the same standard. There is a role for recertification. A number of European projects are looking at how to take buildings apart and reuse, for example, hollow core slabs in a precast building. That involves a recertification process where the material can receive a CE mark and be deemed fit for reuse. It is not just a question of downcycling material from crushed concrete, it is also a question of using the product directly in a new building. We can move the market by introducing the requirement to measure.
In Ireland, we run a very successful programme on what are called environmental product declarations with manufacturers. That creates a verified document of the carbon footprint of the material. Once we have the data, during procurement we can start looking at materials that perform better than others and incentivising those materials to be used instead of higher-carbon materials. Those environmental product declarations will take account of the recycled content. For example, we produced an environmental product declaration for crushed concrete which shows that it has something like one 20th of the environmental impact of virgin aggregates. We have the means to do this; it is a question of starting to align public procurement with taxonomy now. The criteria are largely set out. We just need to implement them.
Dr. Oliver Kinnane:
There is enormous scope to use recycled materials. The point about the recycled concrete aggregate is an interesting one. I read a very interesting article recently which indicated that in Zurich approximately 45% of the concrete used in any new construction must have recycled aggregate within it and yet in Ireland we have no capacity to integrate recycled aggregate in building products. We need to move to other models. We do not need to reinvent the wheel. There is considerable evidence that the circularisation of materials can work.
I commend the Irish Green Building Council, and Dr. Kinnane and his colleagues Richard O'Hegarty and Stephen Wall on their report containing a really interesting analysis of where we are and where we need to go. I think this session may have borne it out that there are so many questions and so many possible decisions, solutions and steps that need to be taken. Perhaps a further iteration of the report could capture some of the very interesting conversations that we had today. We will certainly do our best in compiling the report which we will publish in the next seven or eight weeks. We have quite a few reports building up now. We are trying to take these issues very seriously, capture the critical points, highlight the issues to the general public and put pressure on government and the wider system to go in the right direction. The witnesses present today are probably better placed to get into the nuts and bolts of the policy measures, instruments, legislative changes and regulatory changes that are required. It would be really good to see some of those things captured in a further draft. However, I must say that it is an excellent report and I will continue to read it in the next few days.
I think all the witnesses for coming in today. While I know she had to leave, I also thank Ms Lindblom from the European Commission for taking time out to tell us about the European energy performance in buildings directive and what other countries In Europe are doing. We will have a third session on this issue soon. Ironically or perhaps appropriately we will be going through the circular economy Bill in the next few weeks in this committee and in the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is also very relevant to that legislation. I hope the discussion we have had influences legislation that will be enacted in the coming months.