video Podcast Episode 8

Ben James from Moat

This week, we're talking with Ben James, the Energy & Sustainability Coordinator at Moat. We talk about upcoming carbon reduction initiatives, the biggest potential Net Zero hurdles facing the housing industry and exciting upcoming technologies.

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Podcast Transcript

Alastair:
Hello and welcome to another Switchee podcast. It's the first of 2021. We're also calling this episode one of season two, we've got two seasons now. I’m Alastair Thorpe from Switchee and I’m really excited to be joined by Ben James from MOAT Housing. He's involved in the energy and sustainability side of their business. I’m really interested to hear from Ben about their net-zero and energy efficiency plans. But first I wanted to just ask you quickly Ben, is how you got involved in housing? Because I think it's quite interesting for viewers to know.

Ben:
Hi everyone! As Alastair mentioned I’m Ben from MOAT and how I first got introduced to working within the housing industry was working at groundwork and taking part in energy and water-saving projects. I saw a good opportunity being advertised at MOAT and it fitted in pretty nicely with the career path that I wanted to take. So, yeah I’ve been with MOAT for nearly five years now as the Energy and Sustainability Coordinator. The overarching sustainability strategy is something that I’m working on at the moment and the current climate dictates that. Housing associations and housing providers need to get involved in this sort of work pretty quickly to keep the targets we need to.

Alastair:
Indeed. Interesting use of the word climate there in every sense of the word I think. Look it's hard for people involved in the housing industry to not have heard about the requirements for net-zero and carbon reduction as well as a lot of the grants and funding that's out there. I’ve been aware of MOAT for many years and I know that you guys have been sort of industry leaders and trailblazers with regards to some of your projects. I wanted to ask you what carbon reduction initiatives that you've been most excited about - maybe from an industry perspective but also from a MOAT perspective.

Ben:
Yeah, sure. So, wider industry things that are interesting to me a lot at the moment are that the UK is part of world-leading climate legislation and that the housing industry has a significant impact on achieving the legally binding emission targets that have been set. So as the UK is looking to be a global leader in green technologies we're hearing a lot from the government at the moment and the ten-point plan and other technologies have been made reference to. They will be applicable within the housing sector and so it's something that we're keen to get involved in at MOAT. More generally - targets to plant 30,000 hectares of trees to absorb carbon and extracting the carbon that's currently in the atmosphere is something that needs to be addressed as well. There are lots of other carbon capture and storage technologies that are really taking off at the moment and looking at wind farms and way that we can power our homes and using renewable sources of energy is good. Hornsea One is a good example of that where they can power one million homes just by the energy generated in one year.

Then in addition to that, it's looking at technology such as Hydrogen Boilers and the research is going into that and how that could develop. You could allow a lot of UK homes to provide heat and hot water especially when you can use those technologies in conjunction with smart controls such as programmers, room thermostats and thermostatic radiator valves just to name a few. Then in addition to that, it's the phasing out of petrol and diesel vehicles and the introduction of electric vehicles and how much carbon emissions can be saved by that goal being met. It's just important that the infrastructure is there to allow that to happen, which is a big challenge in itself and then more specifically we're looking to develop a road map to ensure that our stock portfolio achieves net-zero status by 2050. That's part of the overarching sustainability strategy that I’ve made reference to. A kind of stepping stone to get there is to ensure that all of our homes reach energy performance certificate 'C' rating by 2030 and we need to do that to enable that longer-term net-zero goal to be achieved. It's just understanding what resources will be needed to achieve net-zero and we know that there's plenty of challenges there to hit that ambitious target but our ethos at MOAT is just wanting to create homes that are comfortable, affordable, desirable and that fit for a sustainable future.

Alastair:
Great! Thank you for that. Lots of interesting points in there. I guess the main theme is that there are lots of different, great solutions. There are lots of different ways of tackling the problem. It can feel quite overwhelming and scary sometimes but taken in in smaller chunks, it's really possible. And one of the subjects that is being talked about a lot is this opportunity for Hydrogen Boilers. I think there's clearly an understanding that Hydrogen can be a clean energy source and we've got a fantastic infrastructure with the gas networks. From my perspective, it would just be interesting to see if we can convert that to a suitable solution. And I think again, sorry to sound like a broken record but it's going to be a mixture, isn't it? It's going to be a blend. There's going to be some properties that are perfect for PV and air source and for others it's impossible to do that and so we need to find a variety of different options for them. I just wanted to ask with regards to the MOAT Net-Zero plans - trying to get to Net-Zero by 2050 and EPC 'C' by 2030. I think viewers would be interested to understand what hurdles and challenges you guys may have faced already and how you might be looking to overcome them.

Ben:
So internal discussions at MOAT are around the particular challenge that this ambitious target throws up. The main one that is often the case is the cost to get each individual property up to the required energy efficiency performance to ensure that it's classed as Net-Zero. So studies have shown that it could cost up to £17,000 per unit to reach that target. But, you do have to take into account a number of variables like the baseline position of the housing stock and some housing providers may be in a more favourable position than others. At MOAT, we're fairly fortunate to have a relatively new housing stock. So with modern building regulations and energy performance legislation. It's enabled us to have a good starting point. But it's just taking the next big steps to reach net-zero and at MOAT it's all about in these early stages of the strategy developing a clear roadmap. To hit that net-zero goal we need to be aware of new properties with our development team not having gas boilers from 2025 onwards. It does rely on looking at other solutions and as you've explained it's not one size fits all.

So heat pumps would be a good option for some properties and looking at other technologies. As you mentioned Hydrogen Boilers whether that's plausible in the next few years will be interesting to see. And we do have a 30-year plan in place at MOAT where a lot of costs have already been allocated to replacing windows, doors and heating systems already. So it's when we're looking at financing it, it's just looking to provide the additional amount and we've already got that set aside as part of the planned works. So it's just trying to marry those up together and also look at certain software that housing providers can use to model and create scenarios to hit certain targets. There are some powerful software tools out there that can enable that to happen - you can provide in-depth calculations and analysis and improvement of the energy efficiency of the stock. So, yeah, it's important that organizations look to start planning now for net-zero status. 2050 seems a long way off but we're already within that 30-year long-term plan for most housing providers. So, yeah there's a lot that needs to be thought about at an individual organizational level and wider government level to ensure that there are groups for organizations to hit those targets.

Alastair:
Thanks for that. Lots of interesting stuff in there as well. I picked up that you've got quite a good starting point with regards to the energy efficiency of your properties and I know that there's a number of housing associations that feel that way. That they've actually been on what might have felt in the past like a crusade to do this. To do the right thing, before the stick was used to do it and I speak to some councils who have said they haven't had the funding to keep up with the energy efficiency requirements for their properties. So, I think there's a mixture of smugness and fear in the industry around that. But in my experience, it's never too late to start and the quicker you get going the better. I know we said that we weren't going to necessarily talk about this but maybe very quickly. I’m aware, that you guys have done some great things in Passive House style, Energiesprong work. Maybe, just briefly, if you could inform our viewers about that project.

Ben:
Yeah, no problem. So MOAT homes were the first housing association in the south of England to deliver some Energiesprong units. We're proud to say we've got a five property demonstrator in Maldon in Essex. So, they completed in the summer of 2019 as part of the Energiesprong solution. It's essentially a whole-house retrofit and it's designed so that properties will achieve net-zero or near net-zero status. So there's a range of technologies that have been installed in these homes and we've worked closely with the solution provider to deliver them. Just to give a bit of background on it, we've got solar PV panels throughout the majority of the roof space to provide the electricity to do the heating, lighting and hot water. So we've got an air-source heat pump unit sort of M&E pod out of the back of the property. And in addition to that, we've got external wall insulation wrapping the properties to make sure they're thermally very efficient. We've got full insulation, triple-glazed windows and actually battery storage technology as well. We're linked to it - planning for potential future changes within the energy sector if a time of use tariff starts to be introduced - it has battery storage technologies. It's a great option. So you can use the energy that you generate when you need to use it, not necessarily when the PV panels are generating that electricity.

So there's a unique financing mechanism that sits behind the Energiesprong solution as well which was a great appeal to MOAT and there's a comfort plan agreement that can be set up with customers to recoup some of that initial upfront investment that housing associations would have to put up to deliver it. There's certainly a lot of lessons being learned. There's a lot of monitoring equipment that's been installed into these homes so we can look at things like humidity and it helps with our technical and building safety team. Rather than being reactive to situations, it's pre-empting where faults may occur. There's a lot of solutions in Energiesprong that can work at scale even if it's not that exact same solution. So it's been a really good project for us.

Alastair:
It's a great blueprint for the sort of scale of what's required in the next few years. I think that it ticks off the boxes of the different things that you have to consider in terms of insulation, power, storage, heating, all those different things. And then it also has to be desirable and comfortable and nice to live in for residents. Something that you mentioned there about the kind of financing opportunity - you mentioned about Savills saying £17,000 on average to do a property. Some of these retrofit measures are much more expensive than that and some are much cheaper. But the ability to either get financing or grant funding towards it is great but that won't do everything forever. So, something that we've been involved in at Switchee is using the property as an energy store for heat. So, you can do demand-side response once you move to well-insulated, renewable technology heated properties and you can start to say, "Well hold on. I can heat this property at any point in within this window to a mixture of different temperatures and the resident will stay comfortable. Let's do that when the energy grid wants to give us some cheap electricity." It's quite cool that you can not necessarily make money out of that at the end but you can certainly reduce the operating costs for residents and for landlords over a period of time doing that.

And you mentioned monitoring as well. You know that you're preaching to the converted here but we do a lot of monitoring at Switchee and we believe it's got to be the way to go because there are so many variables when installing and retrofitting multiple measures into different types of properties with different types of residents and situations. Just being able to monitor how these things have changed the conditions within the property for the better, in the vast majority of cases but sometimes for worse with regards to excess condensation and things like that. It's really important to monitor that on an ongoing basis. Most of the grants that we see coming out these days require some sort of monitoring. So I’ve started talking about technology, which is one of my favourite subjects but have you guys seen any other technologies that you're looking into or that you've been excited by at MOAT?

Ben:
Yeah. So there are a few technologies, that we're looking into and there's some that we've mentioned there as part of the whole house retrofits that we've done. But, yeah we're looking at some of the more challenging properties that are electrically heated - looking at high heat retention storage heaters, heat pumps, infrared panels. There's a number of electrically heated technologies out there that we would look to trial. Ground source heat pumps we've also installed at MOAT and it's just trying to ascertain which technology fits which property best. We know that heat and hot water accounts for 14% of current UK carbon emissions in the residential sphere so, this is a big saving to be made within our sector for sure. We've already touched upon heat pumps and Hydrogen Boilers but they seem like they're pretty good solutions and as we've said there's a good existing infrastructure on the gas network. So if there's a way that we can use clean forms of fuel, such as Hydrogen and it eliminates Carbon Monoxide as well.

So there are added benefits to some of these ways of delivering heat and hot water to certain people's homes. So a lot of these technologies will require organizations to upskill staff and operatives. Contractors need to know and potentially retrain in terms of how best to install these systems and to maintain them moving forward. But yeah it certainly feels like everyone's moving in the right direction and they're testing pretty good renewable installations.

Alastair:
Thanks for that Ben. So look that brings us to the end of the episode of season two of the Switchee podcast. Thank you so much for joining us. I’ve had the pleasure of working with MOAT for nearly ten years now and you guys genuinely do seem to be at the forefront of energy efficiency in the different projects that you've embarked on over the years. Something that's clear and we've repeated it today is that a mixture of solutions are out there and that's what we're going to need. There's no silver bullet, there's no one technology or company, that can sort this for everybody.

And something that I take away quite a lot is we were talking before about the need to install in the next few years. That is going to require quite a lot of resident involvement and education. We found in ground source and air source projects, the more that you're involved with the resident upfront to talk about behaviour change or how the system might be different the better. And I think communicating with the people that are ultimately going to be using and benefiting from the technologies becomes quite key. How you do that at scale? We have to use the internet and the digital technologies, that have developed over the years. But ultimately it's about involving residents and engaging with residents about this technology that's going into their home. So look, once again, thank you Ben for joining us, and we'll see you guys next time, on the Switchee podcast.

Ben:
Thanks very much, take care guys.

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