Government caves in to developers on 'zero carbon' homes

What house builders will no longer have to do - the 'BedZED' Beddington Zero Carbon Development in south London. Photo: BioRegional via Flickr.
What house builders will no longer have to do - the 'BedZED' Beddington Zero Carbon Development in south London. Photo: BioRegional via Flickr.
The Government has gutted its 'zero carbon home' standard - builders will be able to 'zero the carbon' through an offsetting scheme - rather than by installing more insulation, or renewable technologies like solar PV or solar water heating.
Something's gone seriously wrong with the Zero Carbon Homes agenda if such little effort is being made to incorporate proven technologies into new homes.

'Zero carbon homes' won't actually have to be zero carbon at all, the Government anounced today in the Queen's Speech - so long as the emissions are reduced somewhere else under a carbon offsetting scheme.

The result is that buyers will have to pay extra for their homes. But they won't get the benefit of the small fuel bills - typically £300 per year in total - that a truly zero-carbon home would deliver.

The new 'allowable solutions scheme' will "pass costs instead of savings on to homeowners", according to the Renewable Energy Association (REA).

Leonie Green of the Solar Trade Association (STA) added: "In their efforts to ensure business as usual for developers, DCLG is proposing a very convoluted interpretation that is little more than a carbon offsetting scheme delivering little benefit to home buyers," 

A missed opportunity

The diluted Zero Carbon Homes policy "is a missed opportunity for new homes to have lower energy bills", says the REA - savings which, without the offsetting scheme, would be delivered by 'built-in' solutions like better energy efficiency, solar panels, and wood fuel boilers.

"Instead, the Government is focusing on a complicated carbon offset scheme called Allowable Solutions, with costs rather than benefits passed on to homeowners - and exemptions from the regulations altogether for 'small' developments."

Zero carbon homes would only have to meet a base performance standard defined in building regulations, according to a Government briefing, while the remainder of the zero carbon target "can be met through cost effective off-site carbon abatement measures."

'Cost-effective', says Government - but for whom?

The briefing adds that the measures "provide an optional, cost-effective and flexible means for house builders to meet the zero carbon homes standard, as an alternative to increased on-site energy efficiency measures or renewable energy (such as solar panels)."

The measures may be cost-effective for developers, but not for home-buyers - who will be made to pay for the off-site carbon offsetting, but without getting the proper benefits of reduced bills, or greater energy independence.

"Energy efficiency and renewable energy means seriously low energy bills", said REA Chief Executive Dr Nina Skorupska. "A strong emphasis on Allowable Solutions will see homeowners incur the costs of this new tax rather than the benefits of efficient homes with on-site renewables and greatly reduced energy bills."

Why so little effort?

STA's Leonie Greene questions why the Government made these changes, precisely when solar technologies have become cost competitive and widely available across the UK:

"Something's gone seriously wrong with the Zero Carbon Homes agenda if such little effort is being made to incorporate proven technologies into new homes.

"Solar power and solar heating are particularly affordable in new build so it would make little sense to sideline these technologies and instead effectively tax house builders and new home buyers in order to develop carbon reduction schemes elsewhere in the UK.

"If you're going to pay a modest premium for a new home, you should be able to recover that cost quickly through very low energy bills - that is what solar technologies enable."

New build is the time to do it

Ryan Kohn, director of the green design and building company Living in Space, emphasised that sustainability is best built in to new housing - not added on as future a retrofit.

"New build housing is the perfect blank canvas to create a sustainable Britain, providing architects and designers with the opportunity to integrate sustainable technologies seamlessly into a home; and it doesn't have to cost the earth.

"In fact the more common place this becomes, the cheaper it will be to implement. It is also much easier and more cost-effective to incorporate sustainable features such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting and ground source heat pumps from the outset rather than having to add them to a property at a later date.

"These features are also likely to give the property an edge in today's competitive sales market - appealing to environmentally conscious buyers and those looking to reduce their energy costs.

"While the Government seems to have all but abandoned its zero carbon cause, I hope that savvy developers will continue to see the long-term benefits - both environmental and economic - of sustainable development and stay on the path towards creating a greener Britain."


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