A comment piece by Ruth Calderwood, Air Quality Manager, City of London Corporation
During Cundall’s recent Airpocalypse Now event, it was highlighted that London has faced its worst period of air pollution for a number of years. It’s a serious problem: numerous studies have linked long-term exposure to air pollution with a wide range of illnesses including cancer, respiratory and heart disease, as well as diseases of the brain including dementia.
The good news is that London’s air quality is improving as concerted efforts are being made to clean up the city’s vehicles – one of the current principal sources of urban air pollution. The introduction of the £10 T-Charge for drivers of older, more polluting petrol and diesel cars and an Ultra-Low Emission Zone coming into force in 2019 are just some of the recent measures announced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
At the City of London Corporation, we have been supporting City businesses with action to improve air quality for a number of years through our CityAir programme. We regulate equipment used on construction sites to ensure it is the cleanest possible, and also make sure that boilers and combined heat and power plant installed in new developments are very low emission. This has also been reflected in our guidance to construction with our procurement rules that have brought in tight restrictions on harmful emissions from bulldozers and generators.
Technology now plays a huge part in the everyday workings of the City; from smart phones and laptops through to intelligent building management systems, all are placing huge demands on energy resources and companies are running back-up diesel generators to guarantee supply in times of peak electricity demand. The growth in IT-driven business processes has seen a surge in data centres all over London and these all have huge diesel-powered generators ready to fire up if there is a power outage.
At the same time, a move towards a more electrified fleet will see a further soar in electricity demand in the centre of London as generators are installed in buildings for charge points for vehicles needing to be topped up quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, to meet energy-efficiency targets, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant are springing up in new developments. Whilst great for energy security and efficiency, CHP is not so great for air pollution as it can cause high levels of nitrogen dioxide locally, the pollutant we have a particular problem within the City.
Clearly, there is a dichotomy here between energy and air quality policies;. London is a brilliant and ever-evolving city, but we need to have a serious debate about the source of the energy required to support it. We desperately need to find ways of producing electricity more effectively and cleanly, as well as more sustainable ways to store it.
Going forward, I would like to see buildings in the City that don’t have any on-site combustion or designed in such a way that they can create their own energy without producing harmful emissions. The development sector has often proved itself very adept in finding engineering and technological solutions to difficult problems and I have no doubt that it can lead the way in the advancement of more efficient ways to harvest and store different forms of renewable energy – whether that be photovoltaic cells adapted to maximise the harvesting of solar energy through London’s cloudy skies, or the capture of kinetic energy to power IT equipment and vehicles.
The City of London Corporation wants to work with developers, engineers and designers to develop best practice and would be happy to hear from those businesses exploring innovative clean energy sources for new and existing developments.
Within the Square Mile, buildings currently account for 40 percent of emissions.
Now is the time for the built-environment sector to act; building a future in which Londoners can breathe more easily.
For further information please visit: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/air
Follow us on Twitter at @_CityAir