Nearly a quarter of Britain’s electricity was generated from wind turbines, solar panels and other renewables last year. Output from renewables rose from 19.1 per cent in 2014 to a record 24.7 per cent in 2015, according to the Department of Energy & Climate Change.
If you live in the South (southern USA) and already own solar panels, it could take you just under three years to make up the cost of the $3,000 Tesla Powerwall battery.
Solar energy is a seriously underrated resource. More power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in an entire year, yet solar only provided 0.39% of the energy used in the US last year.
Zero carbon is great as a political aspiration but will it stack up effectively as a policy? Richard Hillyard examines Government aims to impose zero carbon targets on the construction industry. Back in July 2007 the Government published the Building a Greener Future statement. This policy document announced that all new build homes would be zero carbon from 2016.
The definition of zero carbon requires new dwellings to take into account:
- emissions from space heating, ventilation, hot water and fixed lighting,
- exports and imports from the development (and directly connected energy installations) to and from centralised energy networks.
Note:- Expected energy use from appliances is excluded from zero carbon definition.
By following this policy the Government expects new buildings to have net zero carbon emissions over the course of a year.
The definition of zero carbon consultation subsequently introduced by the government, sought views on the Government's proposals. This consultation ran from 17 December 2008 to 18 March 2009 and goes on to explain how to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
The Government also announced that from 2019 all non-domestic new builds will also be required to have zero net carbon emissions, with earlier dates for schools (2016) and public sector buildings (2018).
Wisely, the government set boundaries to what it meant by zero carbon. The embodied energy content of construction materials is not covered, and neither is the transportation of materials. Additionally, transport emissions associated with developments are not included as the government intends to deal with these through other policy instruments.
Given these omissions, it could be argued that Government's proposals do not equate to zero carbon. Even if it is not possible (nor cost-effective) to construct a building without generating any greenhouse gases, how far could we get by dramatically improving the efficiency and sustainability of construction methods?
In any case, does it really matter? Less than one per cent of the UK's existing building stock is replaced every year, and it's been estimated by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) that 87 percent of the current housing stock will still be around in 2050. That means that the UK cannot meet its carbon reduction targets without a far-reaching retrofit programme for existing buildings.
The UK Green Building Council's proposal for a Code for Sustainable Buildings will play an important role in improving the focus on energy efficiency in existing buildings. But this is just one of a hierarchy of measures that the Government says will be needed.
The consultation document proposes a three-stage hierarchy for designers to achieve zero-carbon. The first step for energy efficiency requires compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations. This stage may also encompass other regulatory instruments, such as a mandatory requirement to design to Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.
The second stage proposed by Government is something called Carbon Compliance', which essentially is the use of on-site micro-energy generation. A report by the UK GBC Zero Carbon Definition Task Group believe over 80 per cent of homes in the UK to be unable to achieve zero carbon targets this way. The development of near-site and off-site low and zero-carbon energy generation is also being proposed.
Initially there were reservations over whether the use of biomass technologies could be included in the zero carbon strategy. However, the government appears to be in full support of using biomass systems both within new homes and as a source of direct heat from nearby off-site generation.
The third stage in the zero-carbon strategy is what is known as allowable solutions', which is a buy-out fund or form of carbon offsetting through high quality international investment in low and zero carbon projects.
This third way will, it is believed, only be permitted where energy efficiency and carbon compliance are unable to be achieved totally through on-site and near-site measures achieve the goal of zero carbon - in other words the residual emissions.
The government is proposing a system of credits to permit off-setting to occur. Credits will be awarded to developments that have a range of energy-saving criteria. For example, energy-saving appliances and low and zero-carbon technology capable of exporting energy to the grid will earn credits to enable an offset of residual carbon emissions.
The government would prefer off-site low and zero carbon technologies to be included in this part of the hierarchy by feeding into the national grid.
So will the policy work? The first two parts of the hierarchy - energy efficiency and carbon compliance - are signs of forward thinking. With a few tweaks, off-site low and zero carbon energy generation could play an integral part of reaching the zero carbon target, but only if the contribution from the grid can be guaranteed to be clean.
Other questions remain to be answered. For example, with allowable solutions, will off-setting contribute to reducing carbon dioxide emissions enough for claims of zero carbon to stack up - not just initially but over a sustained period? Or is it, as some might argue, just a way of covering up holes in the system, and easing collective guilt?
Off-site low and zero carbon energy generation technologies sounds like reasonable measures, but if they are supplying to the grid as opposed to supplying directly to a development, what guarantees will there be that this clean energy will not be lost in the overall electricity generation? This is a key issue, especially when it's mixed with the output from the proposed eight new coal power stations (each potentially generating eight million tonnes of CO2 per year) that the Government is keen to build.
These questions highlight the credibility gaps that still exist between intention and delivery in Government's push for a low carbon and sustainable energy future. Whatever transpires following the zero-carbon consultation, tackling the issue effectively will not only significantly affect the environment, but also our pockets.
Zero carbon targets on the construction industry, [Online], Available: http://www.bsria.co.uk/news/article/clean-home/ [18 March 2014].
According to the Energy Saving Trust's Chief Executive Philip Sellwood, almost a third of new homes are still failing to meet energy efficiency guidelines. He told the BBC " ... the Government's 'Code for Sustainable Homes' is not being adequately enforced, giving cause for real concern. Our building regulations in the UK are among some of the toughest in Europe, but they are extremely poorly enforced as far as energy efficiency goes".
David Arendell, MD of roof ventilation specialist Klober feels the situation in respect of building air tightness gives grounds for even greater concern. He commented, "In the light of the EST's comments on energy efficiency, it is fair to assume that the level of understanding of how best to achieve air tight construction remains poor.
This is despite the fact that the phrase 'Build tight, ventilate right' has become synonymous with the strategy to achieve low energy buildings. If we don't understand how best to achieve the right balance of air tightness and controlled ventilation, we run the risk of perpetuating condensation problems within the roof space and building fabric. With every upgrade in insulation standards, so the risk increases.
Delays in consultation on Approved Documents Land G have prompted deferment in CSH 2010 until the end of the year, but the clock is undoubtedly ticking towards an ultimate target whereby all new homes achieve CSH Level 6 (effectively zero carbon). However, with house builders having lobbied consistently for tighter definition of how 'zero carbon' can be achieved, the Zero Carbon Task Group was set up.
There is some evidence to support such calls for redefinition. Research carried out in 2007 by the Richard Hodkinson Consultancy, for example, showed that 'PassivHaus' (a Europe-wide Standard with stringent air tightness requirements managed by the BRE and the Energy Saving Trust) would not actually meet CSH 3.
CSH assessment uses the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) test to calculate energy performance, and for a number of years there have been questions over the efficacy of the test, especially in relation to more thermally efficient buildings.
In terms of roof design, the requirement already exists for new public sector housing to meet CSH 3. The impetus towards 'zero carbon' will be reinforced when the equivalent of CSH 3 is incorporated into Building Regulations for England and Wales (some authorities indeed have already adopted this requirement). In Scotland, where many elements of the Code have already been incorporated into Building Standards, similar improvements are planned.
Of the nine categories within the CSH method of assessment, that for 'energy and C02 emissions' is by far the most significant. This is true for both the allocation of credits within each category and the final point’s allocations that result from use of weighting factors. 29 credits are available for energy and C02 emissions which, when weighted contributes 36.4% to the total available performance.
The right balance between air tightness and ventilation can certainly be struck without significant addition to building costs. Material choice however, can greatly influence a building's long-term air tightness. Sheet membrane air barriers coupled with sealants, for example, are more effective than sealants alone, counteracting the effects of buildings (particularly timber frame) drying out.
Housing designers can now benefit from Accredited Construction Details (ACDs), Enhanced Construction details (ECDs) and, in Scotland, the Scottish Ecological Design Association Guide for both warm and cold roof construction. Examples of wall/ceiling ACDs include a junction of ceiling level air barrier with masonry inner leaf and warm roof with room in the roof. Accredited detail Sheet MCI RE 02, for example, shows a warm roof detail at the eaves in a non-habitable loft using Klober Permo forte vapor permeable underlay and appropriate tapes (with an alternative pre-taped option).
For non-residential construction, air tightness is just as important, despite the absence of any CSH equivalent. Roofing materials such as zinc, for example, require airtight construction if the metal's underside is unventilated. At the recently build Abergwynfi primary school near Neath, built to achieve a BREEAM 'Excellent' rating, zinc was used on a series of circular roofs. A Klober Wallint air barrier was installed with sealing tape to meet the specified air tightness performance.
With current Building Regulation requirements stipulating air tightness of only 7m3/hr per m2 compared with CSH 3 at 3m3, techniques used to achieve it must undoubtedly change. CPD presentations and literature on the subject are to be welcomed. 'The Code for sustainable Homes and air tightness in roofs' is a CPD presentation from Klober examining how to 'build tight and ventilate right' within the realms of practical pitched roofing construction. Supported by ‘Taking control of air leakage' www.klober.co.uk/air tightness it is a welcome source of information on a subject for which information is otherwise lacking.
By David Arendell, MD of Klober
If you are a householder in Northern Ireland interested in generating your own heat or electricity, you can apply for a renewable technology grant of up to £2,500 per property. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme incentivises householders interested in fitting their own green energy systems, such as solar photovoltaic’s, wind turbines, small hydro, solar thermal water, ground source heat pumps and Bio energy, by providing grants to contribute towards the cost of installation.
The Programme is funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and managed by the Energy Saving Trust. Many people claim that they want to do their bit to help tackle climate change but are put off by the costs associated with renewable technology. By taking advantage of the grants available through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, homeowners will find small renewable technologies a more affordable option. By installing micro generation technologies, homeowners will not only play a vital role in tackling climate change but will also save themselves money in the long run.
Noel Williams, Head of the Energy Saving Trust Northern Ireland commented: "I am pleased that householders in Northern Ireland have already applied for grants to install green energy technologies through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme and hope that even more people will follow in their footsteps and reduce their carbon footprint."
To be eligible for a grant through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, consumers must choose a certified product and have it installed by a certified installer.