'Zero Carbon' Homes Redefined - Government Reneges?

From the announcement that all new UK homes would be zero carbon by 2016, through the big reveal of the first zero carbon home in the country, to the launch of a more commercially viable prototype for a zero carbon home, there has long been both buzz and confusion surrounding Britain's future housing plans. Last year, Lloyd explained that the definition of a Zero Carbon home in the UK was a house that produces more energy than it consumes. Now new Government announcements are putting that definition in question - and George Monbiot has laid into this apparent redefinition in typically forthright terms. Monbiot argues that the UK government has essentially abandoned its sustainable homes policy, taking the term "zero carbon" and applying it to buildings that have achieved a mere 44% energy reduction. Responding to housing minister Grant Schapps assertion, when his new coalition apparently confirmed its commitment to this policy back in July, that the Government's approach would be "flexible", Monbiot rails against what he sees as pure spin:

""Flexible", as you might also be aware, is a key Coalition term, a bit like "partnership" was under New Labour. It's one of those sachets of lexicographical magic dust which, sprinkled over words or numbers, turns them into whatever you want them to be. The "flexible" spell is so powerful that, in just four months, it has transmuted that unreconstructed, old-fashioned figure 0 into a thoroughly modern, fit-for-purpose 56%.

There was another magic word in Shapps's statement: "Realistic." He would, he announced, commission work from a body called (plainly enough you might think) Zero-Carbon Hub, to work out how new homes could be built to zero-carbon standards in a "realistic" fashion. Zero-Carbon Hub has just published its consultation document, in which it explains that a "zero-carbon home" is one that has cut its emissions by as little as 44% compared with the 2006 building regulations."

Interestingly, given Monbiot's dissection of Shapp's words, Monbiot doesn't take on another part of Shapps wording in his original announcement—namely that "all new homes post-2016 can be zero-carbon." [Italics are my own.] This is actually, to my mind, already a departure from the original commitment to zero carbon homes—after all, a home that has reduced its emissions 44% can indeed be zero carbon, as long as you stick enough solar panels on it. Just because something can be something, doesn't mean it already is. (Of course, that means even the junkiest of old houses can be zero carbon... in theory.)

This is all a far cry from the ambitious goal of truly carbon neutral homes announced back in 2006, which observers even then were arguing would be undeliverable. Of course a 44% is not to be sniffed at. It's just not—as Monbiot so forcefully points out—anywhere close to zero.

More on Zero Carbon Homes
All New UK Homes Will Be Zero Carbon by 2016
What Is a Zero Carbon Home?
RuralZED: UK's First Commercially-viable Zero Carbon Home
First Zero Carbon House in UK Revealed
Zero Carbon House in Scotland

Tags: Energy Efficiency | Renewable Energy | United Kingdom

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