Zero emission homes, published in The Daily Telegraph

Published in The Daily Telegraph

The Chancellor Gordon Brown's announcement that most new UK homes should be zero carbon by 2016 was greeted by a mixture of applause and scepticism. Supporters such as the WWF's Paul King said: "This is a great breakthrough. For the first time Gordon Brown has shown he really backs green housing development," whereas Dr Jason Palmer of Cambridge University described the scheme as 'pie in the sky' and that existing low-carbon home projects had fallen far short of their targets. Domestic housing is responsible for almost a third of UK emissions.

More detailed criticism came from Greenpeace, which pointed out that a recent government study estimates that 210,000 new homes need to be built each year up to 2016. If these are built to current standards, we will emit an additional 28.9 million tonnes of CO2 each year by 2050. In Sweden, by contrast, new homes built to national building regulations use on average 65 per cent less energy than similar UK homes.

Greenpeace maintains that zero emission homes are possible, through a combination of renewable energy sources such as making solar PV (photovoltaic cells) compulsory and developing Combined Heat and Power installations - ideally run on biomass fuel - generating energy for a whole district. "Planning permission should be refused by local authorities if adequate reasons cannot be demonstrated why such systems are not installed as part of a new development," states Greenpeace.

In reality, local authorities are reluctant to antagonise communities (and developers) by agreeing to such power plants, due to a fear of pollution and inconvenience from what is perceived as a dirty process, because it involves burning. However, it is among the greenest and (in the long term) one of the cheapest alternatives.

Greenpeace has at least conceded that zero emission homes are a positive thing to aim for. One zero emissions project promoted by the Greater London Assembly, at Gallions Park in the Royal Docks, drew a positive response from them. "Greenpeace is very pleased to be part of this zero emissions initiative with the mayor," said Simon Reddy.

Developers will be encouraged to build zero emission homes through a temporary stamp duty exemption, though some property experts believe the higher cost of creating such homes will outweigh this concession. Perhaps more importantly, most homes in the UK by 2050 will still be those constructed before 2016. "It will take 1,000 years to completely renew the UK's housing stock," says the Building research Establishment. If mankind sticks around that long...