skip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Drivers and barriers for the adoption of energy efficiency innovations in new UK housing

British homes account for around 27% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.  Only the transport sector uses more energy.  The Government has committed to increasing the annual rate of housing additions by a third by 2016.  At that rate, it will take only 20 years to raise national carbon dioxide emissions by 5%.  The energy efficiency of new stock is therefore an important factor in preventing emissions from rising any higher.

UK policymakers, researchers and industry actors acknowledge the urgent need to adopt energy efficiency technologies in response to climate change, energy security and energy poverty issues.  Yet, change in the housebuilding industry has been slow and UK building regulations lag behind energy standards set by its European neighbours even three decades ago.  This dissertation seeks to address the questions, What drives housing developers to adopt energy efficiency measures in new-build UK housing?  What prevents them from doing so? Then, given an understanding of the drivers and barriers for energy efficiency in housing, What policies, plans and programmes can Central Government implement to accelerate the diffusion of energy efficiency technologies?

This dissertation analyses the housebuilding industry as a complex socio-technical system made up of many actors, who both act together and constrain each others’ actions.  Representatives of four commercial developers and four other stakeholder organisations were interviewed in order to confirm or negate findings from a review of academic and Government literature.  This corroboration process is necessary due to the rapidly changing nature of UK energy policy.

The analysis identified barriers related to developers’ willingness, motivation, and capacity for change, as well as financial and non-financial drivers for the adoption of new construction systems.  Thirty-three possible government responses were developed, aimed at removing barriers or making use of drivers to accelerate the adoption of energy efficient house construction. These strategies go beyond using ambitious regulation to drive energy performance; they examine ways for society to distribute the risks and benefits of energy efficiency investments and how incentives in the system can be reconfigured so that energy performance is self-driven.  In order to provide a real-world context for recommendations, this dissertation briefly describes how they may be integrated into the first ‘eco-town’ development of Northstowe in Cambridgeshire.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.