Eco-bling 'will not help cut carbon emissions'

Installing "eco-bling" such as small wind turbines on buildings will not help meet the UK's targets to cut carbon emissions from homes and offices, engineers have warned.

Installing "eco-bling" such as small wind turbines on buildings will not help meet the UK's targets to cut carbon emissions from homes and offices, engineers have warned.

Professor Doug King said far greater reductions in emissions could be achieved in new buildings and in "retrofitting" old buildings by focusing on bringing energy use down through efficiency measures.

He warned the construction industry will struggle to meet Government targets to make all new homes "zero-carbon" by 2016 - and all new buildings by 2020 - because of a lack of skills in understanding the energy use of buildings.

Long term targets to cut UK emissions by 80% by 2050 will also be under threat without a "step change" in improving energy efficiency of existing properties, said Dr Scott Steedman of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The vast majority of the buildings which will be occupied in 2050 are already built today, and relying on traditional methods of cutting energy such as loft insulation will not deliver the reductions needed.

According to a RAE report by Prof King, the use of on-site renewable energy generation, such as small wind turbines or solar panels for electricity, has become fashionable but makes little contribution to tackling energy demand.

This kind of "eco-bling" - which is very expensive - on the outside of buildings "achieves little or nothing", Prof King said.

He added: "In most urban situations, trying to put wind power on individual buildings is nonsense".

But designing offices or homes to make them energy efficient, for example using masonry to store heat or ensuring good use of natural light, can reduce emissions by far greater levels than the renewables.

It can also pay back the extra spend within a few years in savings on energy bills.

And with a future where energy supplies "are going to become a little bit flaky", buildings need to rely less on artificial lighting or air conditioning in case the UK is hit by rolling blackouts, he warned.

For existing buildings, low cost alternatives to eco-bling include installing thermostats on central heating systems to ensure buildings do not overheat, or replacing all light bulbs with low energy alternatives.

The original definition of "zero-carbon" would have demanded the use of onsite renewables, which would have been an expensive and inefficient way to provide green energy and cut carbon - although that is now being reviewed.

But new developments could put money towards larger scale, off-site renewables which would be more efficient.

Prof King, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, visiting professor in "building engineering physics" at the University of Bath, warned there was a widening gulf between "ambitious government policy and the industry's ability to deliver" on targets to make buildings greener.

He accused the Government of having a "woeful" record of setting ill-thought out targets that later had to be retracted - although he said the goals for making buildings zero-carbon should stay.

But he warned not enough people in construction, engineering and architecture understood building engineering physics, a relatively new scientific discipline which looks at flows of energy in buildings and uses it to design high performance structures.

There was a need to understand the scale of the skills gap, and a need to share information on how successful a building's design was, he said.

Existing buildings also need to be used sympathetically, for example by not cramming too many people into a small office space which will then need air conditioning to make it comfortable to work in.

And Dr Steedman said people needed to think about how to use buildings - such as accepting that indoor areas were somewhat cooler in winter than in summer and putting on a jumper on rather than turning the heating up.

He also said large estate owners, such as the NHS, Ministry of Defence and universities should lead the way in demanding buildings which have been designed

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