Barny Evans discusses the implications of total electrification for buildings and property in our cities worldwide.
In your report, which was written three years ago, you made the case that London, or any other leading city, should commit to becoming all-electric by 2035 to reduce CO2 emissions, improve air quality, reduce noise and continue to compete against the world’s leading cities, attracting jobs, growth and investment. What was your evidence for that?
According to our research at the time, 4,250 premature deaths in London each year were directly attributed to breathing bad air and one in four Londoners had seriously considered moving out of the city because of its noise and poor air quality. Mercer’s Quality of Life survey ranked London at 38, way behind cities such as Vienna and Zurich, and that ranking hasn’t improved since. We worked out that if electricity could power all of London’s transport needs and replace gas for heating and cooling, we could reduce the nitrogen oxide emissions (NO2), which harm our lungs, by 37 per cent. In addition it would reduce CO2 emissions by two-thirds.
2035 was an ambitious target date – it’s less than twenty years away! Is there any chance of London achieving it? Are there any signs of your findings being vindicated?
We argued at the time that it’s what people want – in our survey we found that Londoners were generally in favour of the city becoming fossil-free within the next 20 years, supported an electric car-hire scheme, and reducing energy bills was considered a priority. So the will is there.
And even though only small numbers of all-electric cars are sold today, they will become more affordable and governments are now setting their own targets for full car electrification. In 2017 the UK government announced that all cars sold will be electrified by 2040, and France announced that it intends to have ended sales of petrol and diesel for cars, also by 2040, which is only 5 years after our target date. Volvo has stated it will only sell hybrid and electric cars from 2019 – in one years’ time. I think in vehicles the transformation will happen quicker than expected.
In terms of replacing gas consumption in buildings with electricity, it is now becoming obvious that heat pumps have a much lower carbon intensity than gas as well as air quality benefits. It is increasingly becoming standard for new developments to be all-electric and in some cases in London designs have been changed to electric at the request of the planning authority.
Finally, since the paper was written, energy storage and smart energy management in buildings have become mainstream and that will only accelerate this revolution.