How a Zero Carbon Hub will not help the environment

What is a Zero Carbon Hub? It is a public-private “partnership” which is responsible for galvanising action and working with government to ensure that Zero Carbon Homes become a reality by 2016, according to a press release issued by the Zero Carbon Hub. That definition which I promise that I have accurately reported just about sums the waste of time and resources that are going into to a policy which starts with a phrase “Zero Carbon Homes”. The problem with the phrase “Zero Carbon Homes” is that it is, as I write meaningless.

There have been consultations about the phrase and the first task of the Zero Carbon Hub will be to find out what “Zero Carbon Homes” means. No, I am not making this up.

Some studies show that a way to achieve a home that emits no carbon (except by making people move back to the caves) is to use a combined heat and power device to generate both heat and electricity by burning biomass. This of course is “high carbon” emission as well as high smoke pollutant emissions. It is called, wrongly, zero carbon because using wood pellets in theory emits carbon that is stored by the growth of new wood.

You burn wood pellets of which there is an limited UK supply and apart for the pellets being transported all over the country there will have to be massive increases in imports of wood pellets which would come I guess mostly form Canada and Russia.

In addition you would have to have some device to ensure that you replant sufficient trees that stay in the ground for the next hundred years to soak up all the carbon dioxide that wood burning emits. Burning wood emits more carbon dioxide than burning oil or natural gas.

Even if all the problems with making biomass carbon emissions genuinely offset by new trees, after taking into account all the factors and even if the smoke pollution can be rigorously and continuously overcome, there is still another problem using combined heat and power. The problem arises in summer when you only need heat for hot water you have to dump the surplus heat somewhere – perhaps in the ground altering the soil temperature and subterranean structure,

The problem arises in summer when you only need heat for hot water you have to dump the surplus heat somewhere – perhaps in the ground altering the soil temperature and subterranean structure,

Clearly the house builders are alarmed by this prospect; no one would live in a home with a hot CHP boiler that spends four or five months of the year consuming wood that you have paid for in order for the heat to be dumped. It would make homes harder and more expensive to run, because of the unnecessary fuel burned and the high smoke control maintenance costs.

In a house market where prices are falling and where buyers cannot raise the money to buy because mortgages are scarce this CHP idea must be a complete nightmare to housebuilders.

Now the Zero Carbon Hub is composed of representatives from the House Builders, the NHBC, local government and the construction products Association. It is noteworthy that there is no representatives from the industries that can genuinely provide low and zero carbon solutions – the renewable industry. The Zero Carbon Hub must obviously have all the knowledge it needs about renewables. I wonder where that knowledge lies.

What will happen, I think, is this. The Zero Carbon Hub will end up with the various vested interests pushing their own idea of what a Zero carbon Home should be. It will probably decide that they will end up estimating the energy use from these homes and getting in place energy generation projects or other green projects in the United Kingdom and probably in Africa and Asia to offset the carbon emitted by new homes. Most of these projects will be for increasing energy demand in those places, so they should be undertaken in any event, but not under the guise of a Zero Carbon Home.

The press release quotes Housing Minister Caroline Flint as saying ”Building all new houses to zero-carbon standard from 2016 is one of the toughest timetables in the world, and to achieve this we need leadership from the industry as well as from Government.  Establishing the Zero Carbon Hub is a critical step in this process and will provide a real focus and resource for coordinating activity, identifying and sharing learning.”
So we have in essence a policy to build Zero Carbon Homes only by 2016 and a quango established to discover what a Zero Carbon Home is and how it should be delivered made up of competing interests. You may think that I am making this up, perhaps as an updated version of “Yes, Minister” but I very much regret that it is all true and your taxes are being paid to do it all.

The concept of building new homes emitting as little emissions as possible is an excellent concept – a consummation devoutly to be wished. The way to do it is to provide a university specialising in these matters with specific money for a long term research into how we can use existing technologies to produce homes that are a low carbon as possible, not to have the matter debated by a “Hub” with insufficient expertise.

Research takes a long time and in the meantime simply require two of the existing renewable technologies to be installed in every new home. We will not have Zero Carbon Homes now but we will have much lower carbon homes now.


One Response

  1. NEW YORK (Associated Press) – A government report on new-home construction and building permit applications for October is forecast to show declines for the fourth straight month as the housing sector is pulled down by falling prices,

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