During 2019, the climate change situation has changed radically, with declarations of a Climate Emergency by many local authorities leading to an increased emphasis on zero carbon homes. The UK Government has recently stated its ambition that all new homes should meet a Future Homes standard, aiming to halve the energy use of all new buildings by 2030, compared to the current (2018) Buiding Regulations requirements, which is a significant step towards the net zero target.

The Chair of the Good Homes Alliance, Lynne Sullivan OBE, is leading a task force for the Green Construction Board to examine the journey that the industry needs to make in order to achieve that target. The Greater London Authority has also set a zero carbon target (with percentage improvement in emissions over building regulations) for all new homes in London, which has been in place since October 2016 and the draft new London plan proposes a requirement for energy monitoring post completion.

A number of organisations have started the journey towards net zero carbon homes, many of them Good Homes Alliance members and we have recently started a map of zero carbon homes within the UK. The GHA is also involved in the Building for 2050 project for BEIS, led by AECOM and Pollard Thomas Edwards, which aims to understand the demand for low carbon low cost housing, and to assess the capacity and motivation within the housing sector to meet this demand.

Two key factors, fabric energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, will make the journey to net zero carbon possible, which are examined in more detail below:

Fabric energy efficiency

The fabric first approach has long been established as the starting point for net zero carbon targets, for many reasons. First, this approach should lead to better living conditions in the homes, particularly in terms of thermal comfort. Second, it reduces the amount of renewables generation required to take the homes to net zero, making it more feasible to achieve the target. The GHA therefore endorses a fabric first approach.

There are a number of standards, targets and initiatives that address fabric energy efficiency. The GHA particularly supports the Passivhaus standard and the AECB building standard, as these address both energy efficiency and the performance gap, alongside other performance factors such as thermal comfort (summer and winter) and indoor air quality. The GHA is also working with LETI (the London Energy Transformation Initiative) to help identify the routes for achieving net zero carbon homes in London.

Renewable energy generation

Once the energy efficiency of a home has been improved, then net zero carbon homes will need to meet their remaining energy requirements through renewable energy generation.

There are numerous ways to provide renewable energy on new homes, the most popular of which is probably electricity generation through solar photovoltaics. Other approaches, such as solar hot water and ground- and air-source heat pumps address other forms of energy demand such as hot water supply and renewable heat. The Good Homes Alliance works with several organisations in this field, including the Solar Trade Association and the Renewable Energy Association.

However, there can be a mis-match between energy supply and demand, for example when solar electricity is required outside daylight hours, particularly in winter, whereas maximum generation will occur during the day, and probably in summer. It is therefore essential to aim to match the type of renewables used with the demand requirements; battery storage can also go some way to alleviating the mis-match problem, as well as providing the potential for electric vehicle charging. The GHA has therefore been working with SPECIFIC to explore possible solutions in this area.

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