STA: Zero carbon home backtrack threatens new build solar market

The Solar Trade Association has hit out at government proposals to water down the zero carbon homes standard, labeling the move as ‘bizarre’.

The association notes that the inclusion of ‘Allowable Solutions’ means that buyers of new home will actually be paying for green energy measures elsewhere as opposed to their own home, where they could benefit financially from reducing energy bills.

The STA calculates that, had the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) stuck with its original proposals, a 1.73kWp solar array would meet the standards at a cost of £2,550 per house.

The association adds that if build rates reach 200,000 units per year, as widely predicted, it would result in 0.35GW of new annual capacity. A total that would eclipse the current installation rate under the feed-in tariff for existing homes.

STA head of external affairs Leonie Greene said: “Something’s gone seriously wrong with the zero carbon homes agenda if such little effort is being made to incorporate proven technologies into new homes. Solar power and solar heating are particularly affordable in new build so it would make little sense to sideline these technologies and instead effectively tax housebuilders and new home buyers in order to develop carbon reduction schemes elsewhere in the UK.

“The technologies that can eliminate both carbon emissions and energy bill anxiety in homes are available right now. If you're going to pay a modest premium for a new home, you should be able to recover that cost quickly through very low energy bills - that is what solar technologies enable. Instead, in their efforts to ensure business as usual for developers, DCLG is proposing a very convoluted interpretation that is little more than a carbon-offsetting scheme delivering little benefit to home buyers.”

The association is also keen to point out the dramatic cost reduction that solar has experienced over the last few years. Recent analysis by the Sweett Group of its zero carbon standard revealed that the cost of building a zero carbon semi-detached home has fallen by 57% compared to 2011 estimates – in large part due to the dramatic fall in cost of PV. In addition, the STA believes that solar thermal costs could reduce by over 30% if deployment hits 200,000 units per year.

Stuart Elmes, chair of the STA’s Solar Thermal Working Group summarised: “It is wrong to conclude that Zero Carbon Homes are a luxury we cannot afford.  The opposite is true – for a relatively modest outlay at the construction stage it is foolish not to build modern solar technology into new homes to ensure very low energy bills.

"DCLG has come up with a carbon-offsetting scheme that might tap home buyers for funds to boost DECC's energy policies, but sadly it doesn’t look like the UK will be building real zero carbon homes any time soon.”