Are Zero Carbon Homes Coming to Britain or Are They Not?

solar house construction photo

Image credit: SandTDesigns, used under Creative Commons license.

Since way back in 2006 there has been much hype about Britain's commitment that all new homes would be zero carbon by 2016. But there has been confusion too. Last week I posted on George Monbiot's assertion that the Government had backtracked on its zero carbon pledge, and was somehow arguing that a 44% reduction in energy demand could be counted as zero carbon. Now the UK's housing minister has responded to Monbiot's charges, and unsurprisingly enough, he says he is still on track. In a comment piece over at The Guardian, Minister for Housing George Shapps asserts that his government remains committed to the goal of zero carbon housing. Interestingly, as I suggested in my post last week, it looks like the disagreement centers around exactly what it means to say that a new home "can" be built to zero carbon standard.

Shapps suggests that they are looking at numerous approaches that don't just tackle the bricks-and-mortar energy consumption (or indeed production) of a home, but also offer home builders the opportunity to fund renewable energy schemes in the local area instead:

"So plucking some figures from the Hub's consultation to suggest we're no longer aiming for zero carbon is misleading. As the people at the sharp end of delivering the government's commitment to tackle climate change we know attaining zero carbon status has always involved a flexible approach. And for good reasons - if we're serious about reducing our carbon emissions we need to find the most practical way of doing this, and ensure the people at councils and industry who are actually going to deliver these changes are on board."

At this stage the debate seems to be settling into a familiar "yes we will", "no you won't" pattern, and until more details are released about the Government's commitment I plan on keeping an open mind. Distributed power generation is undoubtedly a wonderful thing, but I can also see that too strict an interpretation of "zero carbon homes" could have its drawbacks. If the same amount of clean, renewable energy can be achieved by funding a wind turbine, at half the price it costs to install solar panels, Government policy should probably take that into account. Given Monbiot's grumbling that solar feed-in tariffs are a rip off, he may even agree on that front.

There is little doubt that the home building lobby has been pushing hard to weaken certain green building targets and legislation. Let's just hope that Shapps can back up his public commitment to aim for zero carbon homes with some sensible, ambitious policies to actually deliver them.

More on Zero Carbon Homes
Zero Carbon Homes Redefined: Government Reneges?
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

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