What will your zero carbon home look like?

By Juliet Davenport OBE, Founder of Good Energy | June 10, 2021

The move to a sustainable society with zero greenhouse gas emissions will be transformational.

The change will impact all people and the way we navigate daily life for the better: cleaner air, warmer homes, zero waste. But before then we need to create a vision for how people will live and start an open discussion about the positives, and compromises, of the net zero transition.

As we look out to 2030 and 2050, we are expecting major changes to how people behave and what their homes will look like. The UK’s Climate Change Committee estimates over 60% of the measures needed to reach the 2050 climate target will require behavioural or societal changes.

We have spent very little time engaging and debating these changes with the millions of people who will need to get us there. Instead, we have focused on low-hanging fruit, with progress in cutting carbon emissions largely confined to power stations. In the UK, the change in emissions from energy supply is significant; latest figures show a 75% drop between 1990 and 2020. This has helped boost the UK’s impressive figure of a 51% decline in total greenhouse gas emissions, and created headlines such as “UK halfway to net zero”.

But this masks a lack of progress in other parts of the economy. The transport sector has recorded almost no changes to cutting emissions and now accounts for over a quarter of the UK’s total. A similar story takes place in the heating we use in our homes and buildings. Over 85% of British households are still connected to the gas grid and we have done remarkably little to tackle this thorny problem.

Switching off dirty coal plants and replacing them with wind and solar farms had little direct impact on the general public. The next stage of decarbonization will need to have people front and centre. But the net zero homes we will live in the future won’t look the same. In the UK, 80% of the houses in 2050 have already been built. This means many of the climate measures will need to be adapted to homes of different styles and ages.

The first and most pressing issue is energy efficiency. The vast majority of the UK’s 29 million homes rank poorly for energy efficiency, and this has a major impact on carbon emissions and energy bills. The net zero home will have efficiency at its core – deep retrofitting of the existing housing stock, beyond the basics of loft insulation, will dramatically change people’s quality of life. Examples of this already exist with companies such as Energiesprong in the Netherlands retrofitting entire houses to bring them up to a much higher standard. The company was recently awarded funding to retrofit 150 homes in Nottingham, which led to energy bills for local residents being cut in half. These energy efficiency measures will be vital in creating the zero carbon home, and while costs are initially high, they are greatly reduced when included in all new buildings, rather than having to go back afterwards.

Rooftop solar long before 2050 will become the norm.

Established clean technologies have already changed how many people use energy. Roof-top solar panels are a popular option; in Germany, over 1.3 million solar systems have been installed in family houses over the past two decades. These installations have relied on incentives from governments, and energy suppliers, to support people to switch to renewable power. Places such as California have gone one step further and mandated that all new buildings have to come with solar panels included. Long before 2050 this will become the norm as millions of new households benefit from a free and largely untapped resource.

As more homes generate their own clean power, they will also come with a new generation of smart meters. These devices will work in tandem with batteries and electric vehicles to allow people to make the most of their electricity at different times of the day. Battery storage is a growing market which complements the variability of solar power. Germany is a leader in the field with over 300,000 devices already installed in people’s homes, and an estimated 70% of these have solar panels.

The days of the gas boiler are also numbered. Leading bodies, such as the International Energy Agency, are calling for a ban on selling new fossil fuel boilers by 2025. In their place will come an army of heat pumps and solar thermal technologies, which convert air and sunlight to warm people’s homes.

Together these technologies give people the capability to use, generate, store, and share clean power at a time which suits them. For example, many people who own an electric vehicle will charge their car at home, often overnight. Clean power which has been generated during the day and stored in a battery can easily provide this service.

In fact, there will be many times when your home will be generating too much clean power. The answer here is to share the surplus with the National Grid, using a bidirectional charger fitted to your EV. This technology is called ‘vehicle-to-grid’ and trials have shown it could earn households over £700 a year. In addition, sharing excess power will be done with your neighbour through peer-to-peer trading. This can be made easy using an app or online platform on your phone which enables instant trading.

The zero carbon home is well within our grasp. The technologies we need already exist and are coming down in cost. Achieving this goal is no different to the major changes we have always made to our homes – the shift to central heating, home telephones, or fibre broadband are in the same category. The difference is that this next period of change will not only benefit us, but directly tackle the climate crisis at the same time.

Good Energy is a participant of the Race to Zero, the world’s largest alliance of non state actors commited to halving emissions by 2030 and eliminating them by 2050. For more information, please go to: https://www.goodenergy.co.uk/