‘Energy crisis has seen solar interest explode’

How have the ideas surrounding renewables and buildings changed in recent months?

Net Hero Podcast

This week I spoke with Chris Phipps, Sustainability Manager at FirstPort – the largest residential property manager in the UK – to understand how much progress is being made in net zero from blocks of flats to luxury houses.

Chris started his role 18 months ago and was not only the first Sustainability Manager in FirstPort’s history; he was also the first within the residential industry.

Insulation, rooftop solar and heat pumps are all solutions bandied around when it comes to buildings – but how does each building differ and what are the challenges?

Energy and cost of living crises

“This time last year I had a couple of developments approach me with interest in solar arrays on top of their buildings. With the cost of energy, that interest has now skyrocketed,” he said.

Interest from residents and developers in renewables has seen a huge boost, as the cost of living continues to hit people’s pockets, he stressed.

“It’s getting a lot of people talking about insulation, which is a minefield when it comes to blocks of flats.”

Chris explained that the issue of flats is “EPC ratings requirements are barely considered.”

The reason this can cause problems to implementing sustainable measures is that the necessary rating to gain government grants for changes is D or below – “but looking at a list of flats in the same block, I’ve got Bs, I’ve got Cs, Ds. Unless everyone is the same you can’t make the change. You can’t do one flat.”

How easily can changes be made?

To push through these changes with ease, he stressed “we’re still waiting for real clarity from the government.”

“There’s still a large barrier. The leasehold legislation in this country is very good at protecting residents from cowboy property managers – to the point whereby you struggle to get anything through.”

He gives the example of making a greener change in a residential block. “You require balloting of all the residents – everyone has to vote for it. And even then, you need the landlord’s approval.”

Sitting between the landlord and the residents, FirstPort are “paid for by the residents but work for the landlords and don’t own anything ourselves.”

Most of the landlords don’t stand in the way of making the buildings greener, Chris said, as it not only saves them money but helps them commercially, as they can be seen to be offering renewables in their properties.

However, getting all these parts over the line can mean the process of installation can take months to happen.

He’s hopeful that this year more can be implemented and some changes to the barriers of policy could come into force.

2023 – the year of net zero

“We’ve committed to net zero by 2050, with caveats to bring that forward when we can. I’m also writing our first sustainability report that will be coming out this year.”

Since starting his role, he has seen great changes within the company in regards to carbon accounting and measuring its carbon footprint.

When asked whether he would like to see more firms in the residential sector start hiring Sustainability Mangers, he responded: “It would be great to see a couple of our larger competitors do something similar. We can look to collaborate, I think this is probably the one commercial subject where we’re all in this together.

“There’s no competition when it comes to sustainability, I’d like to work with them and share information. That would be great, will we see that this year? I would be surprised but I’ve been wrong before!”

If you are a business looking to change your carbon consumption or have a story to tell on net zero then please get in touch with me – [email protected]