It’s not a cop-out to say we need to strike a balance between off-site and on-site renewables

After six months of hard work, a huge amount of enthusiasm and more than a few late nights, the UK Green Building Council task group reported on the “definition of zero-carbon” a couple of weeks ago.

The group was set up to define the standard that all homes will have to meet by 2016 and to address concerns that the requirement to mitigate all of a home’s energy use through on or off-site renewables was unrealistic.

We’ve had plenty of feedback. Some, including architect Bill Dunster (16 May, page 23), said we should have stuck to endorsing on-site renewables. However, roughly an equal number said we should be allowing unlimited use of off-site technologies.

This probably means we’ve got it about right, but let me address some concerns for the sake of clarity. We believe zero-carbon is the right policy so, for those who fear this is some sort of cop out, I’ll reiterate. We believe that in many cases it is possible and desirable to achieve net zero-carbon in homes using on and near-site renewable energy. In all cases, we believe the minimum requirement for on or near-site carbon mitigation should be high.

However, we need a definition that can be used for regulatory purposes, one that can be applied to 100% of homes, including those that face constraints against the use of on-site renewables. Hence a degree of flexibility is needed.

The approach we have recommended should encourage developers to opt for on or near-site solutions wherever possible. The price of paying into our proposed “community energy fund” will mean developers will only do so if there is no alternative. That price could create a benchmark to incentivise the micro-renewables industry to offer developers better, lower-cost solutions.

To those who think we should have opened the floodgates to allow unlimited use of off-site renewables, I say that it is essential that we optimise use of all the UK’s renewable energy resources. The future is undoubtedly one of increased demand and competition for large-scale on or off-shore technologies, with other sectors such as transport almost certainly prepared to pay a higher price for energy.

There is more work to be done, but I think we’re a step closer to removing a major obstacle en route to 2016.