28 Jan 2007

Zero carbon: just another stupid target

I have been arguing for a little while now that the zero carbon home is not a sensible policy goal. The twin aims of low-energy housing and renewable power generation are both worthy in themselves but it make little sense for developers to be forced into providing both on each and every site, which by current reckoning will be the case after 2016.

Many low energy houses will be built at locations unsuitable for renewable power plant and, conversely, there is absolutely no reason why renewables shouldn’t be employed in all manner of places which have very little to do with low-energy buildings. By asking for both elements to be incorporated into new housing schemes, the government is once again making a target which will end up distorting common sense and ultimately wasting energy and resources.

Nevertheless, I have been surprised just how quickly the deceit that is the zero carbon home has started to unravel. A report in last week’s Building magazine states that two independent reports, both commissioned by housebuilders, have concluded that the best way that housebuilders can meet the zero carbon target on their forthcoming developments will be to switch from selling to leasing the finished product.

What possible difference can this make to energy consumption? Absolutely none at all. But, by so doing, the developers can enter into contracts with the leaseholders to force them to purchase electricity from a renewable power supplier, and that way the developers can claim the houses are zero carbon. Apparently, EU energy rules insist that homeowners must be able to choose any power supplier on the market and the only way of ensuring that the householders don’t switch to non-renewable supplies is to remove the rights that go with property ownership.

Talk about the tail wagging the dog. This really is a ridiculous situation. But this is what happens when you have government by soundbite. Silly targets get set and then clever people find ways of meeting these targets, without the underlying problems being properly addressed.

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