Beckett promises “flexibility” for industry on how target can be achieved

The government has started its long-awaited consultation into the definition of zero carbon. The process will finalise details of the proposal to make all new homes zero carbon from 2016 and will also seek views on extending the restriction to non-domestic buildings from 2019.

Margaret Beckett, housing minister, said zero-carbon homes were an important part of the commitment to tackle climate change. “We are confident we will be able to achieve our ambitions while giving the industry flexibility for how they get there,” she said.

The consultation proposes a number of measures, including requiring the fabric of homes to be far more energy efficient and setting a minimum level of carbon reductions that must be achieved by developers through insulation or on-site renewable energy.

It also considers ways of tackling remaining emissions through “allowable solutions” such as exporting low- and zero-carbon heat and cooling to surrounding developments. In light of the economic downturn, it proposes a cap on the costs expected to be spent on carbon reduction solutions and promises a review of the list of allowable solutions in 2012.

Sean Lockie, director of Faithful+Gould, the cost consultancy arm of engineering and design firm Atkins, said: “The consultation is long overdue. The next area will be defining what’s acceptable from an occupant’s perspective, and the most challenging side is the notion of operational energy, which is very hard to predict. A well designed home is one thing but how it runs it quite another.”

Lockie said much discussion was needed on the definition of zero carbon: “There’s zero net carbon, where the grid is used as a battery store with surplus going in and shortfall coming out, but where the end balance is zero. There’s also zero carbon in the true sense, where the grid isn’t used at all.”

The consultation period ends on March 18.