Low Carbon People

MP Don Foster announced at Ecobuild this week, funding for a programme by the Zero Carbon Hub to investigate why energy consumption in low carbon dwellings is higher than expected. The answer is apparent in evidence also available at Ecobuild pointing to the obvious, which the industry and policy makers continue to fail to recognise.

On Tuesday, Ed Davey defended the Green Deal in the face of poor take up and a recent YouGov survey which revealed that the majority of householders have little interest in energy conservation and believe instead that the energy companies should be forced to lower their charges.

In the Edge Debate on Politics of Carbon Measurement, on Wednesday, Lynne Sullivan showed that actual energy consumption in Passivhaus dwellings is 90% below the average and substantially below the best of the rest.

So the reason for the performance gap between prediction and actual outcomes in low carbon homes should be obvious to all:

Passivhaus homes are voluntary. They are built or commissioned by individuals who are already concerned about their carbon footprint and are therefore pre-disposed to a low energy lifestyle.

The Code for Sustainable Homes, Building Regulations Part L et al are well meaning in intent, but the people who will buy the homes are no more interested in energy conservation than the average Briton. They will happily leave the heating on and open all the windows.

Studies of low carbon refurbishments by social housing landlords have already shown the vast variation in energy consumption in identically refurbished flats that occurs simply as a result of lifestyle. In some cases this variation is so great that it actually masks the improvement in efficiency achieved in the refurbishment.

The message is clear. Personal preference and individual behaviour is what drives energy consumption or conservation, not fantastic building fabric energy efficiency standards, nor regulation or checklists and not energy bills (at least yet).

When are politicians going to finally wake up and admit that the climate change and energy crisis is down to the way in which we all behave, not the buildings we behave in. If we want to make any substantial progress on sustainability it is time to start apportioning blame where it really belongs: the workmen (and workwomen) not the tools. Then we need to get on with changing people’s attitudes towards energy.

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