The government will outline plans to let house builders mitigate carbon emissions offsite rather than onsite with ‘allowable solutions’ in the Queen’s speech.

The move to allowable solutions has been described as a watering down of the government’s initial ambition that all new homes built from 2016 onwards would have to meet the zero carbon standard on-site.

According to a report in The Guardian, the new bill will allow small housing developments to opt-out of the green standards all together, while larger developers will be able to build homes with emissions 44% lower than 2006 levels and “make up for this by contributing to alternative green schemes at a rate of between £38 and £90 per tonne of carbon to be saved”.  

However, the Liberal Democrats claim that the new bill would actually strengthen energy efficiency requirements and make Britain a ‘world leader on zero carbon homes’.

Commenting on the need for the new requirement, Liberal Democrat communities and local government minister, Stephen Williams said: “With each of the three major political parties committed to increasing the number of homes built, and in some cases more than doubling it, the effect of ensuring these homes are zero carbon will be absolutely massive in environmental terms. By 2016 we will have gone from having some of the most energy inefficient houses in Europe to leading the world by being zero carbon, not just during construction but throughout the lifetime of these homes. This is the single biggest step towards greener homes that any government has made.”

The government claims that it is not “cost-effective, affordable or technically feasible to meet the zero carbon homes standard in all cases solely through measures on the dwelling itself”. A fact that the Solar Trade Association’s chair of the solar thermal working group, Stuart Elmes strongly disagrees with. Speaking to Solar Power Portal, Elmes said: “It’s a relief to know that some form of Zero Carbon Homes is now on the way, but both the REA and STA are concerned that developers will be able to cheaply buy their way out of using on-site renewable energy through the so-called ‘Allowable Solutions’ mechanism, building homes with energy bills and carbon emissions almost unchanged from those built today. Consequently we hope to see Allowable Solutions set at a price that would make building to higher energy efficiency with on-site renewables the first choice. We are also concerned that mid- and small-sized developments might be exempted from building to higher energy standards. There must be better ways to encourage smaller developers than letting them build inferior quality products.”

Elmes concluded: “Solar in new build is a real win-win. Installing renewables during construction is more cost effective than retrofitting it later. Energy efficient new homes incorporating renewable energy help build the awareness and acceptance of the technology in the locality and creates a supply chain able to support the improvement of existing homes. If Allowable Solutions squeeze out the new build renewables market that will slow down volume deployment and the cost reduction potential of solar power and heating. We hope this message has got through to DCLG.”