Buildings and climate change

At UK level, emissions from energy consumption in buildings represent around 68% of the total12, with 35% coming from industrial/commercial buildings and 33% from domestic properties, with the remainder from transport. In Reading, the equivalent figure is 79%, with an almost equal split between industrial/commercial and domestic. The vast majority of building emissions come from electricity (where they are typically generated at power stations) and gas (which is piped to homes and businesses directly). Reducing emissions from buildings requires insulating homes and businesses, using energy efficient devices and appliances and generating more renewable energy.

Gas, oil, petrol and diesel are fossil fuels and therefore have a high carbon footprint. Whilst electricity generated using fossil fuels has even higher carbon emissions, recent reductions in the ‘carbon intensity’ of electricity in the UK and the planned continuation of this through further investment in renewable energy generation makes electrification of heat and transport a key strategy for the UK.

Significant additional demands for electricity must be mitigated by reducing wasted energy and through harnessing local renewable energy resources.


The UK’s energy infrastructure is exposed to the impacts of a changing climate and Reading is no exception. In the coming decades we can expect:

  • Disruption of power networks impacting on wellbeing and the local economy
  • Flood risk to energy infrastructure and networks
  • Heavy rain/high winds leading to more impacts on networks such as through pylons and local power networks
  • Risk of high loads and changing power use patterns from hot and/or unusual weather
  • Increased discomfort in buildings where air conditioning fails
  • Urban heat island effects becoming exacerbated by more air conditioning, generating and exhausting heat
  • More positively, a warmer climate could lead to lower heating requirements during the winter months which could reduce carbon emissions associated with this source

Progress to date

Reading has had a lot of new development which means that more efficient buildings are being constructed as building regulations and planning requirements drive higher standards:

  • Lighting in many newer properties and streetlighting are now LED, which use much less power
  • Newer buildings have been built to higher standards than the national regulations through local planning standards
  • Renewable energy generation has been a priority for the Council which owns and operates over 7500 solar panels in the town
  • The Council has upgraded its council housing, which represents over 10% of the town’s housing, to a good energy efficiency standard
  • Early adoption of ‘smart city’ technology in Reading has potential to support efforts to reduce emissions in future

Reading has seen a significant reduction in emissions associated with buildings since 2005, with data from 2018 showing a 52% reduction in per capita emissions.

Priorities on the pathway to net zero for energy and low carbon development

To achieve the target of a net zero carbon Reading by 2030 will require:

  • Substantial reductions in heat loss from buildings through a major retrofitting programme for Reading
  • The electrification of transport and heat (as opposed to fossil fuels)
  • An order of magnitude increase in renewable heat and electricity generation
  • The use of smart technologies such as batteries and varied time of power use

Reducing demand is the first step in achieving a zero carbon future. New developments are built to a higher standard but it will be important to reach the zero carbon standards set out in Reading’s Local Plan. While ensuring that new development does not add to Reading’s carbon footprint is vital, perhaps more important is the retrofitting of existing buildings that were built to a lower standard but which will remain in place for a long time to come. Many of these have solid walls and may be protected heritage buildings with high heat losses and are more difficult to insulate. Such buildings can cause social and health risks for those who struggle to afford to heat them and who may find themselves in ‘fuel poverty’ as a result.

Reading has thus far installed solar panels on only a fraction of its roof spaces. With solar PV (photo-voltaic) panels costing significantly less than a few years ago, Reading should quickly move to install solar panels onto viable roof spaces.

Reading must quickly build its local skills base and bring forward a step change in retrofitting buildings. In order to retrofit all the homes in Reading, a total of 17 houses per day would need to be completed. Modelling work shows that if housing could be lifted to an EPC ‘B’ rating, there would still be a significant amount of clean energy generation needed to bring the gap between that and zero carbon. Previous schemes have shown that householders and business owners will be unlikely to act without significant incentives and availability of finance, so this must be made available locally, especially for those least able to afford it, if Reading is to succeed.

Reading must also increase its local capacity to install energy reduction and renewable energy solutions and stimulate the market in low carbon products and services. There is a need to work closely with the energy companies to plan a low carbon energy future. Significant infrastructure projects need to develop quickly to enable a net zero carbon target to be achieved by 2030 through a new ‘energy master plan’ for Reading. This plan will map out a technology pathway and seek to establish financially sustainable ways to deliver the energy infrastructure needed which ensures energy is affordable. Supporting the local economy through local ownership of energy assets and local supply chain development are also important. Major town centre developments will need to be serviced by, and will form part of, a district green energy network which accesses local renewable heat reserves which are likely to predominantly be from the ground and local water courses as these are the most prevalent source of renewable heat in Reading. Clusters of houses and businesses will benefit from collective renewable heat and electricity generation equipment.

The choices we all make about how we use power will be a critical success factor in meeting the ambition for a net zero carbon Reading by 2030. Technology can help us and the smart city approaches that will allow us to easily control the way we utilise our local renewable energy to power our transport and buildings will also be vital. Minimising energy losses through distribution and transmission will be a further priority.

Key adaptation priorities for energy and the built environment

As we make an energy transition we need to consider the impacts of climate change and how they will change our needs in terms of buildings and transport and our newly developing local energy infrastructure. We will need to work carefully with our local environment and use it with care to help us meet our low carbon energy needs. New risks to the existing power distribution system will also need to be carefully managed. Risks relating to overheating in Reading’s property also needs to be carefully considered.

Energy and Low Carbon Development Action Plan: our aim is that by 2025 Reading is taking urgent action to decarbonise its energy networks, increase energy efficiency and create renewable energy capacity. It has concrete plans to achieve sufficient demand reduction to enable its annual energy needs to be 100% covered by its renewable generation, taking account of the increased load from transport and heat becoming electrically powered.

Action plans

Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
An Energy Master Plan
for Reading
» Develop an Energy Master Plan for Reading
Develop stakeholder group
Establish evidence base and
technology pathway
Develop cross sector
implementation plan
Q4 2020
Q2 2021
Q2 2021
Scottish and Southern
Energy (District Network
Southern Gas Networks
Ovo Energy
Octopus Energy
Local renewable
energy suppliers
Spirit Solar
Reading Energy
Strategy Forum
Energy Efficiency in
New development
Introduce high standards of energy efficiency for new development
» Large commercial to BREEAM ‘excellent’ standard with best methods employed
» Larger housing developments built to zero carbon standards
» Ensure standards post construction with best methods employed
» Build new council housing to the highest standards. Net zero carbon and
exceeding 50% reduction on building regulations
» Consider the embodied energy in building materials in publicly commissioned projects
% achieving standard
Schemes supported though offset
Ongoing Reading Borough Council
Energy Reduction
through Retrofit
Establish a housing retrofit programme in Reading which is compelling
for property owners:
» Apply for funding
» Compile high quality information on stock and energy efficiency
levels of local housing
» Identify partners
» Zero carbon offset
» Investigate green/community bonds and other finance innovation
» Commercial retrofit scheme
Apply MHCLG Local Authority Delivery
funding Sept to Dec 20
» Stock condition survey Oct 20
» Supply chain development work TBC
» Collect Section 106 funds for zero
carbon development
» Work with LEP and Reading UK
to establish companies to pilot –
scheme TBC
2020/21 Reading Borough Council
English Heritage
South East Centre for
the Built Environment
University of Reading
Retrofit Design
Establish standards for climate-conscious retrofit (not exhaustive):
» Develop/utilise standards for different property types
– Heritage sympathetic measures e.g. Heritage England Energy efficiency guide
– Consider design guides such as Passivhaus Energyphit
– Use PAS 2035 where possible
– Design for climate risks (e.g.overheating/flooding)
– Consider embodied energy in material using LETI guide (also design guide)
– Introduce water saving especially hot water
» Develop public communication and resources for retrofit
Links: Water, Business
Identify pilot projects which target
specific solutions for different building
types locally
2020 to 2022 Reading Borough Council
English Heritage
University of Reading
Behaviours that save
energy in homes and
businesses and schools
» Develop approaches to reduce energy consumption in homes,
businesses and schools
» Create information resources
» Develop targeted behaviour-change campaign
Links: Community, Business, schools
Publish resources
Targeted campaign
National/local agencies and
organisations materials and
Reading Borough Council
Reading Climate
Change Partnership
Brighter Futures
Best in class buildings
» Develop high standard projects in different sectors, to reduce emissions
Links: Business
Publish reports on buildings Q2 2021 Housing providers
Reducing fuel poverty
» Continue to provide Winter Watch service
» Support new schemes targeting retrofitting for those most in need
» Build referral mechanisms for those suffering from poor health and/or fuel poverty
Links: Community, Health
Reading Housing Strategy
Design new approaches
Establish cross-referral programme
Reading Borough Council
Other agencies
(Health, Citizen
Advice etc.)
Leadership and
» Consider legal options for establishing standards that go higher than regulations
» Buy sustainable LCGES (Low Carbon Goods and Environmental Services) from
local suppliers to build supply chains where rules allow
» Use social value KPIs
» Develop in-house skills for retrofit of Council housing
Consider trials nationally
Project to work with public and private
sector to build local supply chain
Q3 2020
2021 to 2023
Reading Borough Council
Reading UK
Thames Valley Berkshire
Local Enterprise Partnership
Reading Borough
Council Carbon Plan
2020 to 2025
Reading Borough Council to set out plan to achieve emissions reductions and
renewable energy generation targets
Published plan to 2025 and meet its
Q4 2020 Reading Borough Council
Publish new housing
strategy to incorporate
energy retrofit
New strategy to include C-rating and where possible B rating for all Council and
rental accommodation in borough by 2030
Link: Business
i) New housing strategy
ii) Implementation
2021 onwards
Reading Borough Council
Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
Renewable Heat
Ground Source
Work with developers to maximise district energy solutions in line with Local Plan
policies on decentralised energy:
» Establish District Heating
» Investigate the potential of rivers, ground and aquifers in Reading for renewable
» Implement heat pump schemes
» Develop skills of local installers
Link: Business
Complete studies
Implement scheme
Q2 2020
Q2 2022 (dependant
on developers)
Reading Borough Council
Department for Business,
Energy and Industrial
University of Reading
Renewable Heat
Air Source
Consider different types of heat pumps and develop skills of local installers
Link: Business
Report on Air Source Heat Pumps
Identify installers
Conduct trials
Q3 2020
Q3 2020
Q2 2021
Reading Borough Council
Renewable Heat
Anaerobic Digestion
» Anaerobic digestion for food waste streams
» Consider biogas generation for buses and inject to grid
Links: Resources, Transport
Report informing waste strategy Q2 2021 University of Reading
Investigate renewably sourced hydrogen fuel cell technology in particular for use in
Heavy Commercial Vehicles (HCVs)
Links: Business, Transport
Investigate hydrogen injection to gas network
Identify schemes/trials
Discussions with SGN
Date TBC Reading Borough Council
Reading UK
Reading Transport
Southern Gas Networks
Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
Solar PV (commercial)
Establish large commercial roof-based schemes that service base loads in large
commercial buildings
Link: Business
Establish scheme
Achieve high proportion of suitable roofs
Reading Borough Council
University of Reading
Reading UK
SE Energy Hub
Solar PV (domestic)
Establish phase 1 of domestic scheme using bulk purchase to reduce price
Develop scheme
Scheme up and running
Tenants groups
local companies
Solar PV
(Public buildings
including schools)
Install solar panels onto public buildings including housing, community buildings,
schools, hospitals, leisure centres, police and fire authorities
Council target 50% of electricity from
renewables (mainly solar)
2025 RBC
Fire authorities
Renewable Energy
To bring forward Hydro-electric power schemes powered by Reading’s rivers
To publicise sustainable energy through educational programme
Link: Water
Planning approval secured already,
investment and commence scheme
Launch educational programme, tours etc
Reading Hydro
Investment in
Renewable Energy at
Regional level
Consider investment in land and sites in and outside of Reading that have potential
to supply renewable electricity to Reading
Investigate suitable land with (potential) planning and connections for renewable
energy generation
Initial report by Q2 2021 Reading Borough Council
Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
Energy strategy for Bus
Depot and surrounding
» Establish potential for solar – depot, car park canopies, Civitas School
» Investigate Riding Sunbeams option for direct connection to railway network
Report 2020/21 Reading Borough Council
Reading Community Energy
Action name Description Targets and measure/milestone Target
completion date
Delivery partners
Battery Storage
» Grid side battery storage by Local Energy company (District Network Operator)
» Behind meter storage on domestic and commercial sites
» Specialist large scale storage facilities third party
Establish energy strategy group
Develop energy strategy draft
Q2 2021
Public Sector
Private sector
Smart Meters
» Roll out of smart meters in households
» Identify ’Internet of Things’ solutions linked to smart meters
» Explore linkages to ‘time of use’ tariffs (different rates for different times of day)
linked to IoT devices and ‘vehicle to grid’ (vehicles powering buildings)
» Establish trials with vehicles/buildings and local network
Links: Business, Transport
Energy company schedules/targets 2020 to 2024 Energy Companies
University of Reading
Internet of Things
» Introduction of in-building solutions for projects that use the cloud and smart
response approaches including machine learning to optimise energy flows
Smart Cities projects 2020 to 2022 Reading Borough Council
University of Reading
Heat storage
» Investigate the potential of natural and engineering based heat storage systems
in urban context for stabilising heat supply and balancing summer storage and
winter loads
Set up energy working group TBC TBC
Carbon intensity
» Work with University and or third parties to develop accurate real time
assessment of carbon intensity of electricity and optimise energy flows to
minimise carbon emissions
Set up energy working group TBC Reading Borough Council
University of Reading

Areas where you can help

Take a look at the areas where you can make a positive change, today

Individuals | Using Energy |

Insulate your home

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Organisations | Energy |

Switch it off

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Individuals | Using Energy |

Turn Down the Heat

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Organisations | Energy |

Measuring and managing your energy use

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Individuals | Using Energy |

Switch to a Green Energy Provider

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