Developing a lower carbon estate – the Greenhouse project in Leeds

It is good to see that a new development has started in Leeds which will use many types of renewable energy. The development, going under the name of “Greenhouse” will comprise some 170 flats as well as offices in South Leeds, when it has been finished. Although the developers claim that the project will be “carbon neutral” in that it is expected to generate more energy from renewable means than the inhabitants will consume, there is some doubt in my mind whether this will actually be the case.

Clearly the buildings will be built to be intensely energy efficient. They will have high insulation, which will mean that the heat load required will be very small. Water heating will come from solar panels, and space heating and air conditioning from ground source heat pumps. Although the solar panels will operate with very small amounts of electricity, all of which can be harnessed from photovoltaics (although it does not seem to be the case at greenhouse) heat pumps need electricity to create and exploit the heat differential between underground and surface temperatures.

Heat pumps operate at a range of coefficient of performances. In mild weather a heat pump will produce around 3.5 times the energy that would normally be used if you were to rely on electricity alone. If you generate electricity from coal, then the carbon dioxide emissions of using a heat pump are just a little less those of than using natural gas for heating. In cold weather the heat pump’s “COP” falls to about 2.

The project has roof mounted wind turbines. These will generate small amounts of electricity – not enough as far as I can calculate to supply the development, because the turbine blades appear to be too small for this, as far as I can tell from the information that I have available.

The specification of the flats that can be purchased includes “A” rated energy efficient appliances and smart switches.

Now even though this development will not, I expect be carbon neutral, let alone energy positive as the developers claim, it is nevertheless one of the few examples of development in the United Kingdom where the developers are combining usefully all feasible means of renewable energy generation and renewable energy support.

It shows what can be done now, today, without having curious concepts of Zero Carbon Homes and the developers should be congratulated on their efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from those who will live in their development.

There is no reason why all homes today could not be built using solar panels, photovoltaics, and with larger wind turbines on site, as well as using ground source heat pumps if the carbon cost is lower than using natural gas. The Greenhouse in Leeds is an example of the way forward; they had to get public funding to install the renewable energy systems.

The Government will create some complex rules about “Zero Carbon Homes” when they discover, by consultation, what a Zero Carbon Home is, and are also adding to the building regulations (but not enforcing them) so that the changes in building take place by a series of steps.

I fear that this approach will fail the environment. We need simple regulations now – perhaps one mandating two forms of renewable energy on all new construction now, so that we can take advantages of the carbon reductions that devices like solar panels can deliver today. There is no point in reinventing the wheel – the wheel we have already works perfectly adequately.

Finally although I have criticised some of the hype about Greenhouse in Leeds, I should praise them for their bold innovation. You can check out the development at

11 Responses

  1. Robert,

    With reference to the recent controversy with regards to Carol Thatcher using the word “…Golliwog…” , the first point is that the newspapers are using an abreviated form of the name of a childrens doll it is actually properly spelt as: “…Golliwogg…”
    Wikipedia , states that an a truncated version of the word is used as a racist and dergotary remark. Interestingly the remark was used in past imes as an insulting remark by people in the British Empire about anyone had a tanned appearance including mediteranian and hispanic peoples. You Robert are of Mediteranian descent and maybe some of your ancesters were refered to in this manner, my wife and children are being Filipino also hispanic. I don’t find the word offensive at all my children would laugh if they saw a Golliwog doll, its really pathetic. We must remember some of the derogetory words used by some American Rap singers of African Descent are much more blatantly racist but they don’t get into trouble for it. It seems that whether we are allowed to use particular words depends upon the colour of our skin something which could be described as a form of apartheid.
    I can remember myself having a toy Golliwogg and the Robertsons Jam badges.
    I am in no way racist, but I don’t think it is right to stop people refering to the proper name of one of their childhood toys.
    Racism and Nationalistic ideas are one of the many barriers to dealing with the environmental and technological problems in the world today, I wish this world could be without racial segregation.

    • I, being of a certain age, find it surprising how deeply people feel about the use of “Golliwog”. In my youth I had a strange name in my comunity and was called all sorts of names far more offensive than “Golliwog”. I found it upsetting but many things are upsetting. Times change. People seem to be able to use offensive words about redheads and the Welsh, without incurring the same reaction. I may not agree with what someone says but I would defend their right to say it. Very few people these days seem to want to defend the right of people to speak freely. Many words offend people; we must not get ourselves into a situation where we pick and choose offensive words just for a particular group of people.

  2. It is good to see building projects like these Robert, but as you say, to claim to be carbon neutral may be pushing it a bit.

    The trouble with the UK is the majority of Architects and Consultants are not embrassing renewable technologies, even today houses are been designed with no thought to renewables, new developments should be designed with large South facing roof areas, to allow for larger thermal solar panel arrays to be installed to supplement the space heating, also allowing for PV solar, most of the new housing stock do not have South facing roofs, also the roof designs are all over the place, it is sometimes hard to find enough space for two panels, there is also lack of space for the plant, gone are the days of the boiler in your kitchen and a small cylinder cupboard on the first floor, modern systems require plant rooms to accomodate heat pumps, large buffer tanks etc, along with other heat producing equipment, lots of technologies can be brought together to heat a home efficiently, as long as they are controlled correctly.

    Architects are responsible for shaping the future of our homes, they need to move with the times, even if they do not add renewables at the build stage, designing the homes with renewables in mind, would at least future proof the new housing stock, it will give the future home owners the chance to add these renewable technologies at a later date should they wish, its time to educate our architects and consultants to embrace renewables.

    • Chris

      Architects work to a brief, which is decided by the client, so we have to blame the developrs not the Architects. The client’s brief has to work within the existing regulations so let us concentrate on making the regulations require renewable energy in new build. You will be amazed at how quickly architects and their clients will react.


  3. Robert,

    Do you think that compromises need to be made in building design, Christopher in his comment above suggests that new buildings should be designed with “…large South facing roof areas…” but others may say the opposite that the roof should be designed slope downwards towards the North side of the building to create a large South facing aspect of the building which would be glazed to create a Trombe wall absorbing heat directly into the building. Building a roof just to accomodate Solar Panels isn’t maybe the best idea but of course Solar Paels need to be integrated into building design on the Southern Facing side.

    About Christophers suggestion that we need to integrate plant rooms into houses maybe the equiptment needs to get smaller. Solar Panels seem to be too big why not make them more modular so if an engineer can only get 2 panels on a roof if the panels were say half the size you could maybe squeeze 5 on a roof so thats 2.5 times more panel area?

    Also why not educate Renewable Engineers to be Architects and consultants! Architects are failed Engineers! Sometimes if you want a job doing properly you have to do it yourself.

    • About architects being failed engineers, I don’t take offense personally but both jobs are slightly different requiring different skills as well as similar ones, e.g: both require mathematical precision. However architects require additional skills making them specialists also, for this kind of project you would need both engineers and architects – engineers for the technological side and architects for the design of the entire thing.

  4. Peter, I have understood the large glazed elevations of buildings, the so called solar gain is wasted, by the massive heat loss these glazed areas have in winter, they also cause a problems of excessive heat gains in the summer, which require additional use of equipment to cool, no point in my opinion

  5. Sorry, that should of read, “I have never understood the large glazed elevations of buildings

  6. Peter, to heat a house utilising solar and a heat pump requires space, you cannot make these things smaller, otherwise they just won’t work, solar panels are the size they are to create an absorber area large enough to collect a decent amount of energy, anything smaller would not give you a satisfactory return, as I said, gone are the days of a gas boiler in your kitchen, if you look at Europe, they will usually have large plant rooms in their basements, people have to realise that heating your home and providing hot water are essentials of life, they cannot be shoved into some tiny cupboard, they are the heart of a home, it is strange that people will spend thousands on their car and thousands having a garage built to park their car, but they begrudge spending money on a decent heating boiler, but you try and live life without heat and clean hot water, but you can live without a car, priorities are always wrong in this country.

  7. – cooooolest domain name)))

  8. Hi all,

    The Greenhouse Leeds is having it’s official launch on 2nd October 2010. Please join us to celebrate Britain’s most pioneering low-carbon development!

    RSVP at

    To keep up to date with what’s new at Greenhouse Leeds, follow us on twitter or become a fan on facebook.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: