Sustainable Energy

UK sets example, will California be next?

The UK is taking the lead in sustainable building. In 2007, new housing regulations were agreed upon and go into full force in stages over the upcoming years. The regulations stipulate that from 2016 on, all new homes in the UK will have to be zero-emission for heating, hot water, cooling, ventilation, and lighting. This corresponds to Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

The Code for Sustainable Homes is a new standard that gives new homes a 0 to 6 rating based on their performance against nine sustainability criteria. Level 0 is the base level and means the house meets current regulations. Level 1 includes a 10 per cent energy efficiency improvement over current regulations. Level 6 means a zero-carbon emission house for all energy use. The code was introduced as a voluntary standard in April 2007, and will become a mandatory label in April 2008.

The new regulations impose Level 3 for all new built homes by 2010, meaning a 25 per cent energy efficiency improvement. Level 4, a 44 per cent energy efficiency improvement, will be mandatory by 2013. By 2016, all new houses will have to comply with Level 5.

Californian houses self-sufficient by 2020?

The California Public Utilities Commission suggested introducing a ‘zero-net-energy’ regulation for all new housing developments in the state by 2020. By making the houses much more energy efficient, all the energy a housing development needs could be generated locally with solar panels, windmills or small generators. Mandating energy self-sufficiency is thus perfectly possible, according to the Utilities Commission.

However, the Utilities Commission has no legal authority over the construction industry. The California Energy Commission, which does have the power to set energy-efficiency standards for new buildings, is investigating the proposal from their intergovernmental colleagues.

According to Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute, the goal of increasing energy efficiency of new houses is a very reasonable one. He cautioned, however, that zero-energy does not necessarily mean zero-carbon emissions. There should be no increased emphasis on on-site generation, since some small-scale electricity generation systems produce more carbon emissions than large centralized power plants.

References

  • The Code for Sustainable Homes on the Planning Portal, UK Government’s online planning and building regulations Web Site
  • Article ‘Zero-emissions UK homes by 2016’ on BeyondZeroEmissions.org
  • Article ‘State regulators propose developing energy self-sufficiency by 2020’ on SFGate.com
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