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Form or Function? Revolutionaries in Retrofitting Want Both

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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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Back in 1896, famous architect Louis Sullivan wrote “form ever follows function,” but today builders and designers have to pick one or the other.  John Christopher sits back and admires the Zero Carbon House he designed in Birmingham.  “We’ve throttled down energy use by 95 percent in the whole big house in comparison with the old smaller house,” Christopher said.  Known as a “deep retrofit,” environmentalist are hoping it will become the model for others in the U.K. The country’s independent Climate Change Committee, said that improving the energy efficiency of homes was “one of the easiest and most cost-effective steps to reduce the impact of high bills in the near term…”

While some energy efficiency upgrades are affordable, retrofitting requires a larger investment.  An investment that most people, living in older cities like New York, can not afford.  Donnel Baird, CEO and founder of Brooklyn-based company BlocPower, hopes the Inflation Reduction Act will help address that gap.  Low-income families will be the ones getting the highest rebates for retrofits.  It’s not just good for the environment and the customer, its also good for business.  In fact, Baird believes serving low-income homes with clean energy is a $5 trillion market opportunity and investors agree.  BlocPower partnered with Bezos Earth Fund to build digital models of 125 million buildings across the country.  “We have a partnership with Microsoft and with Goldman Sachs where they’ve loaned us about $100 million to invest in greening low-income buildings…” said Baird.  He believes building policy is closely related to grid policy, stating that regulators and policymakers just need to incorporate an increased electricity demand and a decrease in fossil fuel demand.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set goals for greenhouse gas reductions in Canada to be met by 2030 and 2050. According to a study by the C.D. Howe Institute, retrofitting would be a massive undertaking and cost $18,000 per detached, single-family home.  “Our modeling finds Canada would need to retrofit over 400,00 dwellings per year or 1,158 per day, to fully electrify all dwellings by 2050 and meeting 2030 targets requires even more aggressive action: over 500,000 retrofits would be required per year,” said report co-author Charles DeLand.

Back in the U.K., Joshua Emden, Institute of Public Policy Research, (IPPR) senior research fellow said, ’Retrofitting will not just play a crucial part by cutting energy consumption, but also has the capacity to level-up the regions most in need. Over a million direct jobs and more than a million more indirect jobs would be created if the government pursued this retrofitting plan.” Convinced retrofitting saves energy and economies, Emden said, “The country would be better off, the economy would be better off, and the climate would be better off.” 

In 2020, 16 percent of the U.K.’s greenhouse gas emissions came from homes.  “So often you’re either an environmental designer or you’re an architectural designer,” said Justin Bere, a London-based architect focusing on energy-efficient retrofitting.  “There should be no reason why you cannot be both,” Bere concluded.

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