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Zero Carbon Houses

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Introduction

A zero carbon house is a building whose energy input is equal to energy output hence providing opportunity for the house to return a greater percentage of power received by the building from the national grid back into the national grid circulation annually (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). The efficiencies of energy consumption of a zero-carbon house ought to be high with minimal heat loss or heat gain. Some authors have challenged the concept of zero-carbon houses to be impractical based on incapability to meet requirements for zero-carbon house. Zero-Carbon houses are also termed as Zero-net energy (ZNE) houses subject to capability to consume Zero Net Energy (ZNE) and emit Zero Carbon. Zero-carbon houses rely on National Grid power (Chen et al, 2010). The power could be sourced on-site through use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Zero-carbon houses have capacity to exhibit increased efficiencies of Heat Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and lighting technologies. The core competencies of Zero-carbon houses are capability to exhibit zero-net source energy utilized.

Concept of Zero-carbon houses

Zero-carbon houses are based on principle of environmental conservation. The fossil fuels are undergoing depletion with increasing consumption and population growth which puts pressure on fossil fuel as non-renewable source (Communities and Local government, 2007a). Zero-carbon houses have potential to reduce impacts of fossil fuel on climate change through capacities for reduction of global warming and greenhouse gas effect as well as capability to achieve ecological balance through managed carbon footprint (Chen et al, 2008).

Rationale for zero-carbon houses

Zero-carbon houses should contribute into capability to reduce carbon footprint, reduce costs of carbon greenhouse effect, contribute into carbon saving and align perspectives of carbon footprint management towards realization of carbon budgeting (communities and local government, 2007b). Zero-carbon houses provide opportunities for eliminating contribution of household carbon footprint on strategies meant to reduce carbon management targets by 2020. Zero-carbon houses have potential to contribute into strategic cost-effective carbon footprint management that could be achieved through investments structured towards protecting viability of house construction (Communities and Local government, 2008). Zero-carbon houses are based on zero-carbon technologies that are based on capability to utilize community thermo-regulated heating and implementation of biomass technology through Combined Heat and Power (CHP) recyclable technologies. Zero-carbon technology is structured on capability to generate renewable energy namely electricity and heat through recycled materials for instance wood (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). 

Capability of houses to meet zero-carbon standards

Buildings could achieve zero-carbon standards through construction of building that meet zero-carbon standard or renovation of existing building to satisfy zero-carbon standards (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2008). Buildings could achieve zero-carbon standards through designing and redesigning to meet standards of Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) and Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).  In order to implement FIT and RHI, zero-carbon houses require high financial inputs that present cost barriers towards realization of goals for zero-carbon house (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). The technology that is implemented in existing building presents challenge towards implementing zero-carbon standards. Micro-generation could be realized through reduction achieved through FIT and RHI. Loss of heat load enhances efficiencies of zero-carbon houses subject to costs reduction that arise from elimination of using non-renewable fuel sources for instance natural gas and water gas.

Principles of zero-carbon homes

Zero-carbon buildings should demonstrate capacity for energy efficiencies. Energy efficiencies are achieved through use of Fabric Energy Efficiency Standards (FEES) that is developed on Zero-Carbon Hub (ZCH) project (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). FEES implementations contribute into heat retention in houses that create opportunities for reduced cost of house heating. Zero-carbon houses therefore depend on capacity for carbon compliance. Effectiveness of zero-carbon houses is based on capacity to set maxima values for carbon dioxide emission from zero-carbon houses. This has capacity to facilitate in policy development on amendments that ought to be carried out on building regulation Act (Communities and Local Government, 2007b). The foundation of zero-carbon houses focused on environmental regulatory policy “polluter pays principle”.

Deficiencies in past approaches to zero-carbon houses

Past strategic approaches to zero-carbon houses were based on policies that held house designers, house architects and house constructors accountable for carbon emission (Cyril, 2009). However, case controlled studies determined that house occupants appliances contribute into carbon emission (Communities and Local Government, 2008). For instance the policies were deficient for failing to account the role of household appliances like desktop computers and television sets that don’t determine design of the house. The past home policies on zero-carbon homes didn’t integrate role of household heating, ventilation systems, hot water, and fixed lighting that impact on energy output and carbon emission (Communities and Local Government, 2007a; 2007b).

Zero-carbon house conceptual approach

The Zero-carbon house concept is targeted at construction of houses that could integrate practical carbon saving strategies as opposed to strategic measures targeted at reduction of carbon emission (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). Carbon saving approach is based on carbon innovation strategies and adoption of cleaner technologies that support goals for carbon saving.

The micro-generation approach

Micro-generation is a technology that results into generation of energy through use of renewable resources (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). The key disadvantage is small scale nature of micro-generation.

Competitiveness of heat and electricity

Heat and electricity approaches in zero-carbon technology have higher competitive advantage compared to wind power and CHP (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). Micro-generation approach in zero-carbon house building involves implementation of four key approaches namely solar thermal power required to heat water, photovoltaic power to generate electricity, ground source and air sources heat pumps that are dependent on heat. The zero-carbon technology, based on approach for using heat and electricity has reduced opportunities for wind power or CHP technologies based on capacity to deliver zero-carbon technology at code level 5 and 6 (Communities and Local Government, 2008). Code level 5 and 6 favors photovoltaic power due to heat dependence of other approaches. Community development schemes could be implemented or use of offsite scheme that is linked into a local distribution system that is heat proof to reduce heat loss (Renewables advisory Board, 2007).

The CHP approach

The electricity and CHP approach involves generation of heat or electricity from a centralized site (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). For instance CHP involves use of pyrolysis technology. Pyrolysis involves heating of biomass in absence of oxygen to facilitate catalytic cracking of organic compounds leading into production of hydrogen gas (Communities and Local Government, 2007a). The heat produced through the exothermic process is used to heat water that is distributed through piping systems and used for community heating or driving turbines to generate electricity. Heat distribution is carried out through heat insulated underground systems (Communities and Local Government, 2007b). Heat is emitted into homes through heat exchangers.

Interventions in zero-carbon houses

Training of personnel

The personnel require training in order to be positioned to provide reliable advice on zero-carbon houses (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). The training should be conducted on constructors, designers and architects as well as principle advisers of the government and legislative agencies responsible for quality control of zero-carbon houses.

Time for building inspection

Zero-carbon houses, unlike convectional houses, require ongoing quality monitoring and control (Chen et al, 2010). Interventions should seek to ensure zero-carbon houses are inspected on ongoing basis as opposed to final inspection and certification for carbon compliance. Due to lack of periodic inspection, construction operations for instance assessment of work fitting insulation and vapor retention rate cannot be determined (Chen et al, 2008).

Motivation of supervisory and inspection personnel

The inspection personnel don’t have adequate motivation to conduct appropriate level of inspection for the zero-carbon houses (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2008). This implies, the certification for carbon compliance is a matter of concern only to owner of the house and occupant if different from the owner. Buyers of zero-carbon houses should be provided with energy consumption data for the house that ought to have been acquired through inspections, thermal imaging of the house and through conducting ongoing testing of the air tightness of the house to determine levels of heat retention and loss (Communities and Local Government, 2007a). Zero-carbon houses should not be sold through warranties and carbon compliance certification but the certification should be supported by data on efficiencies of energy net consumption of the house.

SAP implementation and amendments

Amendments on SAP in key areas like carbon emission factors may contribute into inability of expected zero-carbon houses to fail to meet requirements for zero-carbon house (RAB, 2009). This is because many homes don’t have capacity to implement biomass CHP.

Use of biomass technology

Biomass though considered as a low carbon fuel presents handling challenges and could contribute into environmental hazard if right handling procedures are not put in place (RAB, 2009; Communities and Local Government, 2007a). Interventions should be targeted at rationale for growing and transporting biomass.

Equipments

The equipments include wind turbines, solar panels and renewable material burners for energy generation (RAB, 2009).

Materials

Triple glazed windows, heating systems and insulating materials. Other materials include rain water collection tank that should provide water supply to key water facilities like toilets, washing machines and sewage system (table 1.

Measures

The measures for zero-carbon houses should be implemented through SAP assessment. SAP results into capacity to determine carbon dioxide emissions (Communities and Local Government, 2007b). The measures should determine energy efficiency, carbon compliance subject to carbon dioxide emissions that could be realized from the site or through direct linkage to a zero-carbon heat and allowable solutions with regard to management of residual carbon dioxide emission (figure 1). The measures should be guaranteed through insulation, low energy lighting systems, use of fans and use of high efficiency pumps.

Cost analysis interventions

The zero-carbon house cost structure to implement different code levels of energy reduction is very high (table 2). This implies the cost of constructing zero-carbon houses is high as well as cost of delivering the zero-carbon policy (Cyril, 2009). The capital costs are very high that reduce opportunities for zero-carbon project viability. The costs of building zero-carbon houses are further affected by technical feasibility to deliver zero-carbon houses (table 6-9). The construction includes additional costs of building biomass or biomass combined heat and power whose initial costs are high. This implies, construction of a zero-carbon house is very high compared to renovating an existing building to satisfy zero-carbon standards (Communities and Local Government, 2008).

The initial costs for setting up a zero-carbon house range from £ 120,000.00 to £ 140,000.00 that is very expensive compared to convectional homes that cost about £85, 000.00. The cost excludes purchase of the land which is also very high. The estimated cost of zero-carbon house ranges from £ 350, 000.00 to £ 400, 000.00 (Communities and Local Government, 2007a). The cost of zero-carbon houses is likely to be lower after increased construction of zero-carbon houses which will result into reduction of demand at a higher supply.

The proposed funding for zero-carbon houses is driven by requirement for reduction of prices of land at the expense of zero-carbon house subsidies (table 6-9). There is however no strategies through which the costs of zero-carbon houses would be financed (Cyril, 2009). There is high likelihood that landowners may fail to sell their land which would reduce opportunities for construction of zero-carbon houses (table 3).

Due to cost factors and low feasibility of zero-carbon houses, the confidence level of construction of zero-carbon houses is not high. The costs have reduced potential of construction of zero-carbon houses by 2016 (table 3). The costs of zero-carbon houses are increased by demand for controlling air-tightness that forms basis for heat retention and heat loss management.

The cost of code level 6 for the zero-carbon houses has capacity to increase the costs of the zero-carbon houses.

The demand to construct zero-carbon houses by 2016 has effect of resulting into decrease of demand for houses (Abdulateef et al, 2009). This will result into loss of market value of the houses and predispose a housing burst and possibilities of creating a local credit crunch and economic downturn. In the event the landowners fail to sell their land, the converse will be true (table 6-9). The demand of the houses will increase and pave way for the rise of the price of zero-carbon houses.

Evaluation

The feasibility of Zero-carbon houses is not certain unless there is guarantee that construction of Zero-carbon houses would be supervised and monitored in order to ensure compliance with Zero-carbon standards (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). Carbon-compliance with relevant regulatory standards on zero-carbon houses demand continual supervisory and quality monitoring at construction sites that is not feasible due to lack of sufficient staff. The staff doesn’t have sufficient training on testing of zero-carbon houses which question the criteria that should be implemented towards certification of zero-carbon houses (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). The supervisory staff ought to be equipped with adequate knowledge on assessment of air-tightness as well as qualitative measures for determination of continuity of insulation that is key component towards heat retention and achievement of micro-generation capabilities.

The supervision staff needs to be motivated through remuneration. This would facilitate capability for the supervision to be more oriented towards quality of insulation continuity assessment and assessment of air-tightness.

Feasibility of Zero-carbon houses

Zero-carbon housing is a sustainable project that could contribute into decreased reliance on non-renewable fuel (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). Zero-carbon project could contribute into capacity for states to be energy independent through capacity to generate own energy-supply chain that can run the states local economy. Zero-carbon initiative has capacity to transform different sectors of economy into independent energy generators that could also contribute into state revenue (Communities and Local Government, 2007b). Zero-carbon project has capacity to be adopted and implemented in different locations at varying scale. Zero-carbon program represents innovation towards independence on state’s entrepreneurship, enhanced resilience ion carbon footprint management and stability of ecological systems.

Zero-Carbon programs have potential to contribute into de-carbonization and revitalization of a state’s economy although it ought to be driven by variation of zero-carbon policy across regions (Renewables Advisory Board, 2007). For instance policies for zero-carbon standards could be differently implemented in rural and urban areas. The concept of zero-carbon policy in rural areas could be driven by implementation of solar powered and wind powered. The differences in rationale for zero-carbon implementation arise due to economies of scale between urban and rural areas and need to reduce costs of installation. This makes solar-powered and wind powered zero-carbon houses more practical in rural areas due to economies of scale, economies of scope and cost complementary. Population density also impacts on the conceptual approach that could be implemented in urban or rural areas (Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2008). Skill competencies and capacity to learn and adopt zero-carbon houses in rural areas is lower compared to urban areas. Due to sparsely populated rural areas, capabilities to achieve sufficient human resource with competencies in zero-carbon house engineering is not sufficient to support rural zero-carbon concept that could be implemented in urban areas.

Challenges in implementing zero-carbon houses

The primary challenge that impacts negatively on zero-carbon house is the initial cost of construction. Zero-carbon house require higher financial investment through learning, and capability to qualify for the ZEB subsidies (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). Due to technological expertise required in building zero-carbon houses, construction of zero-carbon houses has limited competent designers and architects. Zero-carbon houses have been cited to contribute into possible loss of market of renewable energy which would result into loss of foreign exchange in countries that depend on renewable energy as major export for instance Middle East states. Due to dependence on national grid power, zero-carbon houses cannot be sustainable projects because national grid power supply would not be affected by implementation of zero-carbon housing projects. For states that don’t have sufficient sunlight exposure, adoption of zero-carbon house technology is not feasible.

Due to increased attention focused on zero-carbon houses, investment in managing global warming from other perspectives may reduce which may reduce capacity to manage global impact of climate change (Communities and Local Government, 2008). Other challenges include restriction of the design for the zero-carbon houses due to other economic activities that have higher economic value for instance natural ecosystems and national parks that contribute into a state’s revenue through tourism, earning of foreign exchange and need to preserve historical sites and archeological sites. A greater population may fail to implement zero-carbon policies with regard to grey water recycling, community micro generation and lower water consumption levels. The zero-carbon houses face challenge of failure to construct code level 6 that could decrease investment in zero-carbon houses (table 5).

Sustainability of zero-carbon houses

Zero-carbon houses are sustainable in the long term towards energy management and carbon footprint reduction. The competitiveness of zero-carbon houses lies in the cost effectiveness of the zero-carbon houses. The economic advantages of zero-carbon houses are higher compared to primary disadvantage of cost. Zero-carbon houses have minimal maintenance costs hence home policies on zero-carbon houses should be passed and implemented (Communities and Local Government, 2007a, 2007b). The construction supervisory staff should be trained on capabilities for determination of continuity of insulation and methods be developed towards computerized air-tight assessment in order to reduce deficiencies of conducting qualitative air-tightness of the insulation.

Zero-carbon houses have been determined to protect home owners from non-renewable energy crisis that predispose increase in price of energy. Case controlled studies have determined through isotherm maps that zero-carbon houses increase comfort level that is brought about by balance of interior ambient temperature due to very finite diurnal range and improve quality of life. Zero-carbon houses have been established to demonstrate gain in value whenever energy crisis arise (Zero Carbon Hub, 2009). Zero-carbon houses have higher energy reliability compared to convectional houses due to durability of photovoltaic systems that has a high guarantee of 25 years.

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