Is The Zero Carbon Home Destined For The Scrap Heap…..

……and is there a better strategy for reducing emissions? 


Construction sector leaders are understandably dismayed by the government’s decision to axe its zero carbon standard which was to be introduced in 2016 for new housing developments and after 2018 for all new buildings.

Talking to industry publication Building, Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “Let us be in no doubt this announcement is the death knell for zero carbon homes. It is short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house building industry which has invested heavily

in delivering energy efficient homes.”

The government’s change of heart was revealed in ‘Fixing the Foundations’ published as part of George Osborne’s economic productivity drive. Changes will see the 2016 zero carbon homes target dropped and industry figures are now speculating whether the 2019 target for non-domestic zero carbon buildings will also be culled.


Why has this happened?This change of policy is of course partly due the difficulties that have been encountered in coming up with a workable and economically viable strategy for achieving zero carbon. Conflicting interests in the industry have slowed the process and have given rise to the compromise method of incorporating ‘Allowable Solutions’, which would always have been difficult to manage and would perhaps have deflected limited resources and money from actually improving building performance.


Zero or Nearly Zero?
Achieving a low carbon building is proportionally more costly the nearer to actual zero carbon you get – the law of diminishing returns applies here! Concentrating on building fabric performance and other low energy use strategies, may be a better way to achieve a wider result. Given the small proportion of new to existing homes, a strategy that allows improvement of these could have a far greater effect on overall carbon emissions over the next 15 to 20 years.

The Passivhaus and Enerphit standards and principles could be a way of achieving very low energy new and re-fitted buildings without relying on carbon off-setting and other renewable energy solutions – leaving renewable energy and other low resource use strategies to give further improvements, locally or at grid / national level.


Where Next?
The green policy back-tracking is not without critics within the government’s own circles. Conservative MP and London mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith has spoken out against his party’s green energy subsidy cuts – particularly the decision to scrap the zero carbon target for new homes.

He told BusinessGreen that the plans “undermine” the green energy sector and said the government should “accelerate, not reduce incentives” for green energy projects.
Goldsmith said that creating zero carbon homes was an “aspiration we should be pursuing with more, not less, enthusiasm”.

Suggesting that the government may not have abandoned its green agenda entirely and there could be more positive announcements in the pipeline, he continued: “….officials were ‘drawing up a raft of policies’ to replace those it plans to scrap or reduce, which it did not consider to be working.”

Hopefully, this will include measures to reduce carbon emissions significantly to help meet our 2020 and 2050 targets. Whilst the proposed zero carbon standard may have been un-economic and difficult to legislate and manage through the Building Regulations, a nearly zero-carbon standard more in line with the EU’s EPBD directive of 2010 achieved through building fabric and services efficiency may be a more workable and much more effective strategy for reducing emissions.

I would welcome your views – contact me or tweet to @placearch