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Building a renewable future for housing

Published: 11th May 2021
Area: Real Estate & Planning
To reach the UK’s ambitious target of becoming net zero by 2050, renewables must become an integral part of housebuilding efforts.

Green housing has been put in the spotlight by the Energy White Paper, published in December 2020, and housebuilders will have to find alternative energy sources quickly to meet the country’s environmental goals. For example, the Future Homes Standard requires new homes to be built without fossil fuel heating by 2025, leaving developers with little time to find viable alternatives.

Past mistakes

Eco upgrades were rolled out on a home-by-home basis in the past, with solar panels and small wind turbines incorporated into new houses. However, many of these systems were owned by energy companies making the most of government subsidies on offer at the time and, once they ran out, many homeowners faced complications with mortgages and resale.

Although initially appealing, properties where panels were installed and owned by the residents themselves were only a short-lived success, as homeowners became unable to keep up with maintenance costs. Lacking long-term viability, this approach failed to provide the level of change needed.

Adopting a broader approach

By considering developments as a collective, and introducing green energy sources that benefit all residents, a more permanent solution could be found. For example:

  • Anaerobic digestion plants – Heating is the primary concern for housebuilders at present, so biomass boilers, heat recovery and green gas are all major focuses. One source of green gas is anaerobic digestion plants, which can be built on site. Non-disruptive and able to use the existing gas infrastructure network, these plants use micro-organisms to break down feedstock into clean gas. Food waste from residents could also be used as part of the process.
  • Solar farms – By making use of readily available solar technology, entire developments can benefit from cleanly generated electricity. Collaborating with private developers would remove the need for homeowners to maintain the solar panels themselves, making these farms a longer-term prospect than individual properties supporting their own panels.
  • Vehicle to grid (V2G) charging infrastructure - Electric vehicles (EVs) are growing in popularity and new homes will have to be built with charging points installed to reflect this. This charging infrastructure can also be used to power homes, via V2G, enabling people save money by storing energy in their EV batteries and discharging it back into their homes and the national grid during peak times.

Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, but all will have to overcome challenges regarding implementation and infrastructure. Planning hurdles will also have to be jumped, with many local authorities having particular requirements for public open space and housing. Compromises will have to be made if the UK is to achieve its net zero goals.

Government support

Largescale projects, such as offshore wind farms, are the government’s priority at present. However, the smaller-scale subsidies that have been offered in the past could be expanded to include entire developments. Doing this could lead to both housebuilders and local authorities being encouraged to implement more green facilities.

We’re here to help

Eco-friendly choices are becoming increasingly important to the UK’s population, and housebuilders should be working to meet these new needs. In order to achieve environmental targets, changes will have to be made soon rather than later.

For further information, contact Peter Dilks or Neil Gosling.

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