Climate Action Series 2: Retrofitting

On April 15, 2024, Newcastle University hosted the second event in the Climate Action Series, focusing on the transformative potential of retrofitting. Held in the Henry Daysh Building and available online, this hybrid seminar explored how retrofitting can drive sustainability in our domestic and commercial spaces. 

The seminar brought together leading experts like Dr. Tara Hipwood from Northumbria University, Dr. Carlos Calderon from Newcastle University, and Dr. Bartolomeo Pantò from Durham University. Each speaker shared their research and insights, addressing the intersection of sustainable design, technological innovation, and the built environment. 

Dr. Tara Hipwood on Social Aspects of Retrofitting

Dr. Tara Hipwood opened the discussion by examining the social aspects of retrofitting within the housing sector. She highlighted financial uncertainties, the lack of skilled labour, and the need for greater public awareness as key barriers to widespread adoption. Dr. Hipwood emphasised the importance of communicating the co-benefits of retrofitting, such as reduced energy costs and improved living conditions, to encourage uptake. 

Dr. Tara Hipwood is a Chartered Architect and Assistant Professor in Sustainable and Environmental Design at Northumbria University. Her research focuses on how retrofitting can be integrated into everyday living practices, with a particular interest in how these changes affect health and wellbeing. Before academia, she worked in architectural practice in the UK and France across various sectors, including public, heritage, residential healthcare, and social housing. 

Dr. Carlos Calderon on Energy Modelling and Smart Technologies

Dr. Carlos Calderon followed with a presentation on energy and carbon modelling in buildings and communities. He discussed the role of smart technologies in enhancing energy efficiency and the potential of integrated grid retrofitting packages to meet energy targets at both domestic and international levels. Dr. Calderon shared insights from his work on housing projects in Newcastle, demonstrating how these innovations can be practically applied. 

Dr. Carlos Calderon is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture at Newcastle University. With a background in civil engineering and applied computer science, his research spans energy and carbon modelling, smart materials, and intelligent systems. He collaborates with local authorities, policymakers, and technologists to transition cities towards a clean and affordable energy future. 

Dr. Bartolomeo Pantò on Structural Resilience and Climate Change

Dr. Bartolomeo Pantò concluded the presentations by discussing the impact of climate change on building structures. He highlighted the need for sustainable seismic retrofitting techniques to address the vulnerabilities of older buildings. Dr. Pantò showcased innovative materials, such as sisal-based bricks, that enhance structural resilience against climate-induced stresses like groundwater fluctuations. 

Dr. Bartolomeo Pantò is an Assistant Professor in Structural Engineering at Durham University. His research focuses on ensuring the sustainability and resilience of the built environment, with a strong emphasis on historical structures and climate change. Dr. Pantò has led significant projects, including developing new environmentally sustainable retrofitting techniques for masonry structures. 

Key Takeaways and Discussions

During the Q&A session, the speakers underscored that many retrofitting technologies are ready for adoption. They stressed the need for consistent political will, long-term financing, and comprehensive support to encourage widespread uptake. The experts proposed creating one-stop shops where councils can offer advice, support, and access to retrofitting packages. They emphasised that retrofitting is a practical solution that individuals can control, making it an essential component of the energy transition. 

Other key questions addressed included: 

  • What are the main reasons for the low levels of deployment of energy efficiency and low carbon technology retrofits in residential properties across the city? 
  • How do we encourage the use of smart technologies in residential properties across the city? 
  • How can we best encourage the uptake of retrofitting measures through advice and support? 
  • What funding is available to support communities on retrofitting? 
  • What are the latest developments in retrofitting that can be employed at the local level? 

This seminar provided a comprehensive overview of retrofitting as a viable pathway to sustainability. It highlighted the importance of strategic alignment across sectors and a deep understanding of human behaviour in promoting sustainable practices. By continuing this dialogue and fostering community engagement, we can make significant strides towards a greener, more resilient urban future. 

As we reflect on the insights shared, it’s evident that achieving sustainability requires a collective effort. The Climate Action Series has provides a venue to discuss the evidences present in the university, challenging us to critically consider our role in the ecosystem and how we can contribute to a sustainable future. Through ongoing research and collaboration, we can make meaningful progress in retrofitting our environments for the better.