Zero net emissions from all energy

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The government's definition of a zero-carbon home is one where there are zero net emissions from all energy used over one year. This means that energy needed for heating, lighting, hot water and all electrical appliances in the house, such as TVs and computers, must be attained from renewable sources. All new houses have an obligation to be zero-carbon from 2016 onwards. While such houses invoke revolutionary images, the truth is they just cannot look the same as conventional houses.

Recent reviews have revealed that climate change is a serious and imperative issue and this is supported by an immense body of scientific facts and data. There is now sufficient proof to give clear and strong direction to policy-makers about the vital need for action, although there are outstanding uncertainties about the final impacts.

The main source of climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases. The UK produced more than 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2004. Almost half of these emissions were accounted for in energy use in buildings, and more than a quarter came from the energy we use to heat, light and run our homes. Soon the UK will be net importers of oil at a time when worldwide demand and prices are rising. This is important as we need to provide energy security. Alongside the ways needed to reduce carbon emissions to tackle climate change, there is a contribution to generating a healthy range of energy supply, while also dealing with fuel poverty through reduced bills for householders.

The subject of housing supply also needs to be looked at alongside the reduction of carbon emissions. Countless families cannot afford a proper standard of accommodation. It has been confirmed that since the early 1980s we have not been building enough homes to meet demand.

If the houses needed are built, then by 2050, as much as one-third of the total housing supply will have been built between now and then. Homes need to be built with a system that aids the plan to cut carbon emissions through reducing emissions of new homes and by altering technology and the market so as to reduce emissions from existing homes too. A range of new growth wants to be seen which will deliver economies of scale and reduce costs of environmental technologies that could affect both new and existing homes.

The targets have been set for moving to zero carbon housing by 2016. This is to be realized in three steps: firstly, in 2010 to a 25% improvement in the energy/carbon performance outlined in building regulations; then second, in 2013, to a 44% improvement and finally, in 2016, to zero carbon. Zero carbon means that, over a year, the net carbon emissions from energy use in the home would be zero.

This is currently being achieved through the correct planning framework set out for low carbon development, and with the improvement of the environmental values of homes through the Code for Sustainable Homes and Building Regulations.

And these developments will be of benefit to consumers, who will gain through lower fuel bills and warmer homes.

The planning system, the new Code for Sustainable Homes and Building Regulations must all participate in achieving these aims.

Discussion/ Main body

Governement Action & Benefits

The Government is obligated to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of its objective to improve the affordability and availability of homes. The government believe that setting a new and ambitious path can help the rising market in new technologies. The government can help to drive innovation and reduce costs by helping to drive the demand for new technologies.

The Government have set a target of all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016 in order to give momentum to investment into zero-carbon technologies. Homes create 27% of all CO2 emissions in the UK, so action needs to be taken. The government also sees house building as a straightforward sector from which to cut carbon emissions from than, say, aviation, so is putting in a lot of time and effort.

Climate change is considered the greatest long-term challenge facing the world today. The Stern Review on the economics of climate change reported that rising greenhouse gas emissions will result in increasing average temperatures by over 5°C from pre-industrial levels. This would transform the face of our planet.

Energy security is an additional challenge resulting from the risks of climate change. The UK has become highly dependent on imports of oil and gas and as the global energy demand is increasing fast, there will be greater competition for supplies which will result in prices increasing.

The importance of reducing carbon emissions and guarantying security of energy supplies are directly related. By securing and protecting the energy supply, there will be first-rate access to a various range of available energy sources while also having the infrastructure in position to transport the energy to consumers, and successful markets that contest supply and demand as efficiently as possible. There is also contribution to forming the healthy range of energy sources needed from the methods required to reduce carbon emissions to meet the challenge of energy security.

Significant steps have already been taken to address the tests of climate change and energy security by the UK. Pioneering policies, such as the Climate Change Levy and Climate Change Agreements, the Renewables Obligation and the Energy Efficiency Commitment have been introduced by Government.

Government has introduced a rigorous regime to ensure a decline in emissions from the domestic sector by endorsing energy efficiency and preservation. On the agenda is

  • Introducing methods to promote success of better domestic energy efficiency by suppliers of electricity and gas through the Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC).
  • Making a push towards the creation of more energy efficient consumer electronics merchandise through the encouragement of voluntary systems in the retail area.
  • Ensuring communication with the general public, retailers and suppliers through the Energy Savings Trust (EST).

Action at a local level

"Climate change is the biggest threat facing humankind, and local authorities have a crucial role to play in tackling it. But is seems that too many are failing to take this issue seriously. The Government must give councils the power and resources to make major cuts in UK emissions, and introduce legislation to ensure that they do it. They must stop dithering and take urgent action now."

"The Government is making things more difficult for local authorities by forcing through climate-damaging policies such as motorway-widening, airport expansion and a major house-building programme. Ministers must urgently review these policies, as well as strengthening its proposals for a new climate change law." Friends of the Earth's climate campaigner Martyn Williams

Local authorities have a key responsibility in leading their communities in dealing with climate change and many local authorities are already moving ahead in this area.The Local Government White Paper, published in October 2006, explores the role that all local authorities can play.

Operating housing development and low carbon technology simultaneously can only be achieved at a local level. Councils hold the local knowledge and have the capability of collaborating partners and making the most out of localopportunities for offsite heat and renewables. Such local solutions have the extra benefit of being more noticeable and realized by local residents which will aid the conversion to a low carbon nation. In order for these opportunities to be taken advantage of the councils must have control to shape developers' preferences on acceptable solutions. The summit on community energy and heating for local government leaders, as part of the Heat and Energy Saving Strategy consultation, will present a chance to begin investigating these topics.

It is fundamental that the development and delivery of strategies in relation to new buildings, existing buildings and renewables are closely linked. Tolerable solutions must present a range of affordable, plausible and appropriate local solutions. All new homes will be built in existing communities and these developments cannot be considered in isolation. By tactically planning low and zero carbon solutions in conjunction with new developments, regeneration and retrofit proposals, cost effective solutions can be achieved. Additional economies can be accomplished from setting up local finances to group resources from developers for allowable solutions.

In the future the big debate will be about going all the way. If the UK is going to take a stance on emissions, then zero carbon should mean zero carbon. All of the reductions figures, and phrases like 'zero carbon in terms of the heat load' are just misleading.

Government have said that no stamp duty will be charged on zero carbon homes developments. The large government now will pay off in the future. Benefits will grow from lower fossil fuel use nationwide, less dependence on foreign fuels and this will help deal with the alarming energy gap. Most of the UK housing stock is old stock which is more complicated and expensive to make zero carbon.

Achieving the set targets.

The government has a principal duty to guarantee that these new homes are designed and constructed in such a manner which will aid the plan to reduce carbon emissions.

This also allows the UK to front an up and coming market in green technologies, driving innovation and cutting costs through the plan to change the housebuilding programme.

New homes are at this stage already drastically more energy efficient than the housing stock standard. Since modifications in 2006 to the Building Regulations there has been a 40% improvement in contrast to pre-2002 standards and in turn a 70% improvement in contrast to pre-1990 standards, in terms of energy efficiently of new homes. But it is believed that more extreme changes will have to be made in order to cut emissions from new homes.

At least 1% of the housing stock every year is made up of new homes. It is estimated by 2050, that approximately one third of the housing stock will have been built between now and then.

As a result the Government has put in place the aspiration that the UK can work towards zero carbon development over a number of years. This means an evolution initially to low carbon development, via ways that can cut carbon emissions from homes and other buildings and eventually to zero net carbon emissions from new developments.

There are various levers and steps that are required for change,

  • The planning system
  • The Code for Sustainable Homes
  • The building regulations
  • Integration of low and zero carbon technologies (LZCT)
  • Improved operation of materials and waste reduction
  • Practical research and development to make renewable technologies more cost efficient
  • Extra incentives and grants to existing housing stock to improve their energy efficiency.

It is visualized that there will be a balancing relationship between the planning system, building regulations and the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH). The planning system can help reduce the requirement to travel and include provisions for low carbon or renewable sources of energy supply in terms of the location and planning of new development. The Building Regulations and the CSH are primarily directed on the performance of the buildings.

Planning System

A draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS) was published on climate change, which expects planning strategies to be examined on their carbon aspiration and, in providing for new homes, jobs and infrastructure required by communities, form locations with lower carbon emissions. The PPS expects new development to be situated to optimise its carbon performance and make the most of existing and planned opportunities for decentralised, renewable and low-carbon, energy supplies.

It has been made evident that the PPS considers spatial planning a key part in aiding to secure continuing development against the UK's emissions targets. The PPS expects that all local planning authorities should arrange and put forward spatial strategies that; have an input to delivering the Government's Climate Change Programme11 and energy policies; facilitate the provision of new homes, jobs and infrastructure and form the places where people live and work, and carbon emissions reductions; present models of urban development that assist in gaining the best possible use of sustainable transport for walking, cycling, public transport and largely reduce the need to travel by car; mirror the needs and welfare of communities and allow them to make an effective contribution in terms of dealing with climate change and react to the apprehensions of business and promote advances in technology.

Code for Sustainable Homes

The Code for Sustainable Homes, as discussed in the previous section, acts as a method for developing and exhibiting advanced environmental standards.

The Code is a benchmark which is intended to improve the sustainability of new homes as a whole and this is done by setting up a single framework in which the house building industry are allowed to design and build homes to greater environmental standards and this also gives house builders a means to separate themselves within the market. If the Code is used then homebuyers are given better information in terms of the environmental impact of their new home and its likely running costs.