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Building the eco-friendly homes of the future

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House - Alex Pepperhill via Flickr

The UK is in desperate need of new homes. Official estimates suggest that about 300,000 properties need to be built every year to keep up with demand, yet this is a rate that hasn’t been achieved in the UK since the 1970s and is two to three times the current level.

It’s a topic that is constantly on the political agenda, with the Telegraph recently revealing that the Government hopes to plug some of the gap with a round of modern day ‘prefabs’.

Yet with the scale of the housing shortage, it’s clear that there isn’t just one solution – there needs to be lots of different methods encouraged. A mass housebuilding programme does provide an opportunity, as well as a challenge.

While the housing crisis might be one of the issues that defines the next generation, the future of the planet is pretty important too. In Paris last year, countries from across the globe signed up to legally binding emissions targets, in an attempt to tackle climate change.

Is it possible to kill two birds with one stone?

According to some pioneers, it really is. There are some people who have been able to build homes that are so efficient that they not only produce enough energy for the people who live inside – but also some extra to ensure that the occupants get paid for contributing to the National Grid.

A community of two and three-bed social housing bungalows known as Unity Gardens in Long Sutton, in Lincolnshire, showcases how this bill-free world can become a reality.

These award-winning homes were the brainchild of eco-architect Dr. Jerry Harrall, who said: “If you wondered whether or not it is possible to design a building where, on an annual basis, you have no energy bills and no heating bills then the answer is yes, I have done it. We have clients who are living the dream.”

Residents in Unity Gardens use less than half of the energy of people in a standard UK home and generate about 1,500kWh more than they use.

This is achieved through smart design and the use of the right materials.

The homes are made with earth bunding for insulation, generate their own energy using a solar panel and wind turbine and deploy heavy materials to ensure the floors and walls can double up as storage radiators. They face south to soak up the maximum amount of sunshine and the most natural heat and light possible.

Unity Gardens proved the perfect starting point for one couple, who used the money they saved living there to build their own eco-friendly home.

Andrew and Jo Thompson tapped into the design knowledge of Dr. Harrall to build ‘Frankly Bee’ just down the road from Unity Gardens in nearby Sutton Bridge. The property cost just £100,000 to build and last year they not only had no energy bills, but they also received £365 for the energy they created.

Jo told the Spalding Voice: “I’m really proud of it and really pleased with the outcome. People need to know that they can do this too. If we keep buying these cardboard houses, nothing will change.

“It’s not hard, it’s not difficult – we just need to change the way we think. We chose this shape but you can make it how you like. You just have got to get the build right. We’re starting to reap all the benefits and not by the skin of our teeth. We’re a long way into making money.”

Dr. Harrall said the Thompson’s home also tapped into the research of Brenda and Robert Vale – forward-thinking pioneers who have inspired his own work over the years.

He added: “Frankly Bee really is the pinnacle of that evidence-based research.”

Not everyone matches the sorts of low energy feats managed by the Thompsons, but there are many people who are embracing green features into their homes to slash their bills drastically.

Indeed, building your own home might well be seen as the ultimate DIY project. With the right support at the planning stage and the right materials from the likes of Ken’s Yard – making your own home can be one of the most rewarding challenges to take on.

Mark and Sheila Hemingway are one couple that did just that. They led the project to build their new four-bedroom home in Northamptonshire, with support from self-build specialist firm Potton.

Their home features an air source heat pump, rain harvesting system, LED lights and a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system. As a result, bills are a couple of hundred pounds below the £1,200 average and they get the Government-support subsidy knows as the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, which is worth £678 a year for seven years.

Mark said: “The temperature in the house is consistent at 22 degrees celsius. This is due to the insulation and re-used fresh air. There are no radiators and the downstairs of the house is all underfloor heated.”

“We’d not go back to a standard home now. We would definitely build an eco house again or retrofit a new one with eco modules.”

Yet, while the Hemingways and Thompsons of this world should undoubtedly be encouraged in their endeavours, it’s unlikely that the scale of the crisis outlined at the start of this article will be overcome by relying on individuals.

Yet, that’s where Dr. Harrall might have the solution. His next project is for 14 homes including one property that he boldly predicts will be the ‘most energy efficient home in the country’.

From there, he’s currently on the hunt for investors to back a new business – Indie House – that could deliver 2,000 homes in six years in the Peterborough area. If successful it would be the largest portfolio of its kind in the country.

Dr. Harrall said: “The business model is very smart and these are not estate developments. We are not building the ghettos of the future. These are houses that use no fossil fuels.”

Two birds with one stone indeed.

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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