The soft landing

That people hope for, that is. Nice article on the ten biggest green energy myths. One favorite:

Myth 8: zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings

Buildings are responsible for about half the world’s emissions; domestic housing is the most important single source of greenhouse gases. The UK’s insistence that all new homes are “zero carbon” by 2016 sounds like a good idea, but there are two problems. In most countries, only about 1% of the housing stock is newly built each year. Tighter building regulations have no effect on the remaining 99%. Second, making a building genuinely zero carbon is extremely expensive. The few prototype UK homes that have recently reached this standard have cost twice as much as conventional houses.

Just focusing on new homes and demanding that housebuilders meet extremely high targets is not the right way to cut emissions. Instead, we should take a lesson from Germany. A mixture of subsidies, cheap loans and exhortation is succeeding in getting hundreds of thousands of older properties eco-renovated each year to very impressive standards and at reasonable cost. German renovators are learning lessons from the PassivHaus movement, which has focused not on reducing carbon emissions to zero, but on using painstaking methods to cut emissions to 10 or 20% of conventional levels, at a manageable cost, in both renovations and new homes. The PassivHaus pioneers have focused on improving insulation, providing far better air-tightness and warming incoming air in winter, with the hotter stale air extracted from the house. Careful attention to detail in both design and building work has produced unexpectedly large cuts in total energy use. The small extra price paid by householders is easily outweighed by the savings in electricity and gas. Rather than demanding totally carbon-neutral housing, the UK should push a massive programme of eco-renovation and cost-effective techniques for new construction.

I like the term eco-renovated, and better, I like how all this information is leaking out with anecdotal evidence from so many portals. It’s almost as though the conventional wisdom doesn’t quite have enough time to gel, though that, too, maybe CW in its way.

But what Goodall writes here is solid. There are many things you can do less expensively than building a zero carbon house. Investing in new windows, insulation and especially installing a radiant barrier when you get a new roof, which you have to do eventually anyway, all make a real difference in energy efficiency. And when that nano-solar roofing material becomes available (who can install that stuff?), you’ll be ready to start supplying (some of) your own decreased total energy needs.

No need to get excited about this; it’s just practical. Another step in understanding how a society’s problem-solving abilities can change, especially when they have to.