Heating, cooling, lighting and plug load (for example, appliances) of buildings account for more than half of the energy and carbon dioxide emissions of communities globally. There is a pressing need to significantly improve the energy efficiency of buildings, allowing the same levels of comfort and convenience while reducing carbon dioxide emissions from this sector. This will be accomplished both by the design of new buildings and the retrofit of existing buildings. Effective decarbonisation should proceed in the following way:

Priority 1: Change your behaviour. Are you too cold in the house? Put on a jumper rather than turning up the thermostat. Are you finished with whatever you were doing in a room? Turn off the lights as you leave. 

Priority 2: Having changed behaviour, look at the energy you still require. Use that energy efficiently. Insulate your building. Replace the boiler with a high efficiency version. Replace  light bulbs with LEDs.

Priority 3: Bring in low carbon energy. Whatever energy needs remain after the first two priorities have been met, supply it with energy that is low carbon emissions per MWh (megawatt-hour) of energy. A reasonable target is less than 100 kgCO2 per MWh.

Investors and energy companies tend to run straight to Priority 3 because they can see how to turn a profit on selling low carbon energy. The result: we pump low carbon energy into a sieve, with that energy coming back out through the walls, windows and doors of buildings. So behavioural change should be followed by retrofits, and only then by low carbon energy. However, we are pragmatic at the CCRM, and so we will support actions on any of these three priorities, in whatever order a community chooses to act.

Learn how the principles of community retrofits were applied in Cambridge UK through the two You Tube videos below. The first is a movie of about 9 minutes featuring the launch of Cambridge Retrofit. The second is a narrated Powerpoint presentation of about 35 minutes explaining the community retrofit process in more detail, again using Cambridge Retrofit.

Cambridge Retrofit

YouTube Video


Retrofits are a classic 'collective action' problem. We might retrofit one building at a time, but this will be expensive (there is no economy of scale) and will take too long. Retrofits at community scale, meaning large blocks of buildings are being retrofit in one project, requires coordinating and mobilising the actions of 7 kinds of actors. 
  1. Building owners and tenants. Without a demand for retrofits, no amount of development of a supply chain will produce a retrofit programme.
  2. Delivery agents. These groups carry out the retrofit work. 
  3. Suppliers. These groups provide the windows, insulation etc required by the delivery agents.
  4. Financiers. These group provide the finance for projects, either as debt or equity.
  5. Innovators. Many of the retrofit solutions require advances that will make them more cost effective and longer lasting. Innovators supply these advances.
  6. Educators. These groups provide the information on the need for retrofits, and the most effective retrofit solutions, to the building owners and tenants. They stimulate demand.
  7. Policy and Planning. These groups provide the incentives for retrofit programmes through government requirements of energy performance, through grants etc.
Community scale retrofits bring these seven actors together, forming them into a network through a a supply chain, common website and community events that aggregate demand, delivery and finance. The result: lower cost to retrofits, creating a much stronger business case, and 'nudges' to the various groups to participate (who wants to be the last person on the block to improve their home?). 

Retrofit programmes pass through four stages, shown below. It is essential that the programme begin with a sound assessment of the magnitude of carbon dioxide emissions and the reasons for those emissions (the building type, energy uses etc). Resources will be limited and must be directed towards the most significant causes of emissions. And people will lose interest quickly if they see money being wasted on ineffective projects.

The entire process of creating a community-scale retrofit programme is shown in the  picture below. The process appears complicated, and it is, but all of the steps are needed to ensure the community comes to 'own' the retrofit programme and participates. For an example of how these were applied in a particular community, visit the Cambridge Retrofit site.

Would you like to develop a community retrofit program of your own? Contact us at cbeec1@gmail.com and obtain a 'white board' version of the retrofit mobilisation website. And visit the Cambridge Retrofit part of this website to see how these ideas were put into action in the UK.