Net zero carbon homes initiative could put Essex on track for 2025 goal

An innovative Dutch energy efficiency initiative in Maldon has been used as an example to help Essex reach a recommended long term goal of building only net zero carbon homes from 2025.

Moat Homes retrofitted five properties in Mundon Road using the ‘Energiesprong’, (Dutch for ‘energy leap’) technology, the first pilot of its kind in the South East, and which has been cited by the Essex Climate Change Commission as good practice in helping reduce the impact people in Essex have on global warming.

Moat’s retrofit included the installation of new insulated walls and roof panels fixed to the existing house.

Solar panels have been fitted and a battery sited in the back garden to store energy. Gas boilers were replaced with modern air source heat pumps and houses were made airtight by sealing windows and doors.

The houses are now as close as possible to being net zero users of energy, cutting carbon emissions by 90 per cent and delivering savings of approximately 3.2 tonnes of carbon emissions per home per year.

If this were rolled out to a similar standard of homes in a city the size of Chelmsford, the carbon emissions saving would amount to 220,000 tonnes.

It is this type of approach that the commission says is vital to halting and ultimately reversing climate change.

As such it recommends that from 2030 all new homes and nondomestic buildings granted planning permission to be carbon positive.

Moreover all new schools commissioned should be net zero from 2022 and carbon positive from 2030 and from 2025 all new commercial buildings granted planning permission would be net zero.

The recommendation comes after months of work from Essex County Council’s Climate Change Commission, which has been looking at a range of policies and initiatives to reduce the impact people in Essex have on the environment.

As part of the work consultancy Element Energy has been commissioned to develop an emissions baseline model for Essex, which will be reported on at the energy and waste meeting later this year.

The emerging findings show that in 2020-21, the built environment sector in Essex will emit just under 3million tonnes of CO2.

The majority (1.8million tonnes of CO2 ) will come from domestic buildings, with 0.6million from industrial processes and 0.5million from non-domestic buildings.

Essex has 800,000 existing homes, 85 per cent of which were built before the introduction of standards for insulation and energy performance.

Two thirds of homes in Essex have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or below.

This means most residents in Essex are paying more for their energy than is necessary and emitting more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

Essex will need to prioritise retrofitting these homes and regenerating town centres if net zero is to be achieved, the commission has reported in its early findings.

Over 50 per cent of non-domestic buildings in Essex have an EPC rating of D or below. Offices top this list with 73 per cent rated EPC D or below.

A statement added: “The NHS has estimated that substandard housing in England costs the NHS in the region of £1.4billion per year due to the effect on residents’ health, hence improving existing stock would deliver substantial savings to health and social care budgets .

“As with new build, this area offers huge potential for green jobs and a sustainable economy through upskilling Essex-based construction workers and training more people in the growing sectors of energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions.

“Through the government’s planned investment in a green economic recovery from Covid-19, including £3billion to upgrade buildings and reach net zero, new work will be created for accredited tradespeople in green construction, supporting 100,000 jobs across the UK.

“For residents and businesses, investing in energy efficiency will save money now and in the future. New technology such as solar panels and heat pumps offer different solutions to powering and heating our homes and businesses, but too many of our homes and offices still lack proper insulation.

“Ambitious uptake of energy efficiency measures such as insulation is needed in the 2020s to first reduce demand for heating, to enable the mass transition to electrification of heating (e.g. heat pumps) and decarbonised gas in the 2030s and beyond.”

Its final recommendations, to be published in spring 2021, will be “transformative but practical”, it says with the impacts across the themes considered together to deliver a cross-cutting set of recommendations for Essex.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter