Professor Doug King of the University of Bath has poured cold water on claims that solar panels and small wind turbines placed on peoples' houses will reduce the UK's carbon emissions. In the report, "Engineering a low-carbon built environment – the discipline of building engineering physics", by the Royal Academy of Engineering says that what we should be concentrating on first and foremost is the proper construction of the buildings in the first place rather than adorning buildings with what has been described as 'eco-bling'.
The UK has a target of reducing its carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2020. According to the report, buildings account for 45% of the UKs carbon emissions. But 80% of the buildings we will be occupying in 2050 have already been built. This puts us firmly on the back foot as far as the report is concerned.
According to the report's author: "The sheer pace of change in the regulation of building energy performance has already created problems for the construction industry and the proposed acceleration of this process, aiming to achieve zero-carbon new buildings by 2020, will only widen the gulf between ambitious Government policy and the industry's ability to deliver."
The report also introduces the new discipline of 'Building Engineering Physics' designed to cover the areas of the energy performance of buildings to utilise natural resources efficiently and limit their impact on the environment during both construction and operation. At present the only thing that makes buildings habitable is the excessive use of carbon based fuels to heat and light them. Putting wind turbines and solar panels on them that only supply very low levels of intermittent power is not going to help.
What also hasn't helped is the almost incessant flow of new rules and regulations surrounding building that don't get to the heart of the matter. "We need measures that go beyond the traditional solutions – new materials, new installation processes, new controls that are based on an engineering approach to the thermal upgrading of existing buildings and the design of new buildings." said Dr Scott Steedman FREng.
Terry Keech and Stuart Buckley said much the same thing in their article 'Blinded by Eco-Bling' in March 2008. Here they concentrated on residential homes and pointed out that 21 million of the 25 million homes had actually been built before 1980 and that 70% would still be lived in by the year 2050.
They also pushed for the drive towards pure energy efficiency over faddish adornments.
In their article is the telling – "Home sellers and landlords seem more willing to entice takers with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee than by an extra layer of loft insulation. Nor do many purchasers or private tenants appear especially put off by a low SAP rating."
Now consider the state of our economy and the current rate of property construction. This may mean that even fewer new more energy efficient buildings will be around in 2050 anyway.
A few turbines and solar panels may look good and send out a message, but as far as these experts are concerned they will not help us meet our targets. What is needed is a real drive towards building performance efficiency of both new and old buildings.