Issue 43Getting to Zero

FCBStudios Researcher Joe Jack Williams joined the London Energy Transformation Initiative to create a unified strategy to put London on a path towards ‘Getting to Zero’ carbon.

FCBStudios Researcher Joe Jack Williams joined the London Energy Transformation Initiative to create a unified strategy to put London on a path towards ‘Getting to Zero’ carbon.

In the Paris Agreement of 2015, 195 nations agreed on the aspiration to limit the level of global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

As a practice, FCBStudios is always trying to push our designs to be truly sustainable, embracing new technologies and philosophies that can bring down carbon emissions for our buildings.

However, working by ourselves, project by project, will not create the zero carbon society that we need to prevent catastrophic climate change. To keep the global temperature rise below 1.5OC, we need all new buildings to be net zero carbon by 2030, and all existing building by 2050. This is clearly a complex challenge, with a myriad of issues within the construction industry which need to be overcome before this is possible.

Building on a successful workshop in May 2017, the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) was created, led by Elementa and supported by FCBStudios. I was one of over 150 built environment professionals who have come together as LETI to create a unified strategy to put London on a path towards the necessary zero carbon future. Working collaboratively we have created evidence based recommendations for two pieces of GLA policy: the new London Environmental Strategy, and the rewrite of the London Plan. Our aim was not just to state the importance of a zero carbon future, but to put together practical, robust advice the GLA can grasp and implement.

Through a series of working groups, we grappled with the issues around construction and policy, eventually settling on four key topics published within the Getting to Zero report:

  1. London Energy Plan Strategy Targets
  2. District Heat Networks
  3. Offset Payments
  4. Energy Use Disclosure

Each of these already has an element within planning policy, but our report provides the expertise and analysis to fine-tune these topics, creating the required path for London to meet its carbon targets.

London Plan Energy Targets

Energy targets within England are based on Part L of the building regulations, and use a standardised compliance model to predict the energy usage of a building (most obviously in the form of an Energy Performance Certificate, EPC). These simplified models overlook many key issues, but importantly do not predict the actual building energy use. Bringing in elements of accurate energy prediction, increasing fabric efficiency targets, reducing peak energy demand, explicitly asking for onsite renewables, and predicting future carbon emissions, are all key elements of improving the energy targets for new buildings.

District Heat Networks

Within London, new developments are obliged to either create a new communal heating system, or connect to an existing system, regardless of the impact on the carbon emissions. This blanket approach overlooks the efficiencies available through other systems and the inefficiencies within district heating systems. Through LETI, we recognised that district heating systems will have a place within the strategy of getting to zero, but the policy surrounding it needs to be more flexible, focusing on the outcomes rather than the approach. By providing a framework to consider the impact of the district heating system more carefully, it is possible to create a system that works towards the zero carbon goal.

Offset Payments

London is the only region of the UK to adopt the Zero Carbon Homes standard, which has now been scrapped by central government. The key principle is that in operation, the building should be nearly zero carbon, but any carbon that is predicted to be emitted over the next 30 years has to be offset with a payment per tonne of CO2. These payments only reflect the building’s regulated energy use (not including occupant related energy use), making the building near-zero carbon on paper at best. Instead, LETI recommends improving the calculation methodology to include all the carbon emitted by both the construction of the building and that generated by the occupants, with the offset payment providing greater funds for zero-carbon investments. 

Energy Use Disclosure

Key to creating a society where zero carbon is normal is to openly discuss energy usage of existing buildings. This was recognised by the introduction of Display Energy Certificates (DECs) for public buildings, capturing a huge amount of data on non-domestic building performance. One of the recommendations from LETI is to extend this to non-public buildings, and eventually to domestic buildings. This transparency can help to inform future decisions on technologies or approaches, creating a feedback mechanism for future buildings.

The Getting to Zero report represents the first step in ensuring London remains a world leader in sustainable development, but only if the GLA embrace the suggestions within the report.

Anybody can help LETI, either personally or as company, by joining FCBStudios in supporting the LETI energy policy proposals

Joe Jack Williams

Download the full report here:


1. Temperature Anomalies By Country Jan-Aug 2017 © Antti Lipponen
2. Joe Jack Williams presents at the launch of the 'Getting to Zero' report, 26 September 2017 © Elementa