When does Zero Carbon start? Is it 2016?


We received the following query through a blog comment recently: “Please can you tell me more when the Zero carbon starts. Is it 2016 ?” Thinking about how to answer this one sent me off on a bit of a tangent and quite a lot of a rant (apologies to my colleagues), the upshot of which is that I’m not sure, mostly due to politics…

‘Zero Carbon’ is not going to fully happen on-site is the simplest answer, whichever political party ends up holding power.

The European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010/31/EU (EPBD recast) states that:

“1. Member States shall ensure that: (a) by 31 December 2020, all new buildings are nearly zero-energy buildings; and (b) after 31 December 2018, new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nearly zero-energy buildings.”

So while there is some European imperative for zero energy within a particular timescale, the neighbourhood of zero is in reality as close as we will get in that timescale.

The 2016 commitment to zero carbon housing goes part of the way to zero carbon, some of it from on-site requirements, but more from offsetting those emissions not met on-site, by  ‘allowable solutions’.

To facilitate this, there will be a 2016 change to regulatory requirements, probably published in October 2016, with new Approved Documents L1A, L2A, L1B and L2B; for new build domestic (L1A). Work is already underway on a new SAP2015 and consultations and Industry Advisory Groups will soon be starting to consider the next round of changes.

Zero carbon for non-domestic isn’t targeted until 2019, at which point, a similar model for zero carbon for non-domestic seems likely as is proposed for domestic (i.e. an on-site compliance level and off-site allowable solutions contribution to offset residual emissions).

The 2016 domestic on-site level of requirement (carbon compliance level) will depend on who gets voted into power in May.

  • If it’s the Conservatives, then on-site ‘zero carbon’ requirements will probably be set at 19% better than current 2013 levels (unless they change their minds). Small sites and starter homes looked as if they might be exempted (possibly only from the allowable solutions contributions), but recent statements seem to have pulled back from that. Conservative energy policy.
  • The Lib Dem’s are generally credited with having pushed the ‘Tories’ to go as far as they have on energy efficiency in the first place. Liberal Democrat’s energy policy.
  • If Labour gets in, then the on-site requirement will apparently revert back to the Zero Carbon Hub’s original proposed level of 52% better than L1A 2010. Which would be welcomed, as it’s hard to see why the government ignored the Hub’s carefully considered recommendations in the first place. Rory Bergin wrote an excellent critique of the rest of Labour’s energy efficiency proposals in his blog last month, which I heartily agree with, so I’d recommend a read of that if you want a quick overview. Labour Party energy policy.
  • A Green Party government would apparently cut bills and ensure warm homes for all by ensuring that all new dwellings (including conversions) are built to zero carbon standards. Retrofitting existing properties is also noted as crucial to reducing demand, with intensive retrofit programmes focusing first on improving housing conditions and reducing the energy costs of poorer households, particularly those suffering fuel poverty mentioned as priorities. Green Party energy policy.
  • UKIP seem to not be convinced that climate change is anything to worry about and they will immediately repeal the Climate Change Act if they get into power. They state that “There has now been no significant climate change for nearly two decades, which argues for a much lower sensitivity than the IPCC uses. Many scientists believe that the sun is more important than CO2 in determining global climate – and the Sun seems to be entering a quiet phase.” This despite international consensus that climate change exists, is of concern and that mankind is contributing to it. From UKIP’s energy policy, we should be using lots more coal, fracked shale gas and nuclear.

The Green Party’s energy efficiency policy seems the best of the lot (as you’d expect), but Labour’s policies look good for energy efficiency too. The Lib Dem’s heart also seems in the right place, but their dominant partner no longer seems so keen on the “green c**p”, it appears they are moving away from their previous aim to be the ‘greenest government ever’.

Energy efficiency reduces carbon emissions and helps to combat climate change; it reduces energy bills and helps to lift people out of fuel poverty. Reduction in demand increases our energy security and reduces our requirement for more power generation, helping to keep the lights on when demand stretches available supply. Energy efficiency measures can drive economic growth, create jobs and results in warmer homes in the winter, helping towards better health and wellbeing for those living in poorer performing housing.

We should be building zero carbon, zero energy new buildings wherever possible and where it’s not, offsetting using allowable solutions to improve our existing building stock to the fullest extent possible.

So, when will Zero Carbon start?

  • Sadly, it probably won’t – the best we’ll get is closer to it.

Is it 2016?

  • For domestic new build, possibly, partly at least, except implementation might not actually happen until April 2017 and then, due to heavily exploited transitional arrangements (as usual), few will be building to them until 2018 or later (and most of the zero carbon will come from off-setting).

How close will we come to it?

  • It probably depends on who you vote for in May…

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Jon Ducker is a qualified energy assessor working for Kingspan Insulation Ltd. He has an extensive knowledge of energy efficiency, renewable energy systems and sustainability in buildings with an expert knowledge of the relevant sections of buildings regulations and standards and their interactions with SAP. He provides authoritative advice regarding energy assessments for a wide range of public and private sector clients.