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A green and murky conundrum…

by mel starrs on April 4, 2007

in Embodied Energy

Mark Brinkley has written up a great critique of Bill Dunster (of BedZED infamy) and his green philosophy, following on from the article in the Sunday Times at the weekend. Highlights include:

  • Bill’s a fan of thermal mass, acheived by concrete (high embodied energy)
  • He’s not a fan of mech vent, opting for wind cowls (making for a leakier type of construction)
  • He also opts for an ‘off-grid’ self sufficiency which Mark tracks back to the 70’s

Another thing Mark doesn’t pick up, but jumped out at me was the fact that ZEDfactory are importing cheap ‘green’ technologies from China. With food miles at the forefront of UK consciousness this seems a risky strategy.

Back in December ZEDfabric were promising that from February 2007,  they would be offering photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity, and solar thermal hot water panels. Equipment will be offered at competitive market prices.

At the time, Wendy Lee explained:

“The current situation is that, as a homeowner, you can apply for a Low Carbon Building Programme grant. To get a grant, you have to apply within the first few months of each year before funding runs out, and fight your way through the bureaucracy to ensure you meet the criteria. If successful, the grant can only be used for government-accredited products,
installed by government-accredited installers. You cannot use your own contractor or install panels by yourself.
If you opt to participate in our buying consortium, our wholesale prices for panels are better than the government-accredited products with a grant.
As an example, using the Low Carbon Building Programme, 1kWp of PV panels costs around £5,500 + VAT to install. The grant enables you to claim back 50% of the pre tax cost, i.e. £2,750. As the grant doesn’t cover VAT, your bill will be around £3,700.”

Almost spooky how right they got it – LCBP has been suspended for the April round, pending a relaunch in May after funding was allocatted within minutes of becoming available by the March round.  One side effect of the LCBP PR disaster has been a collapse in sales for british companies relying on LCBP to stimulate sales.  By funding vanishing, buyers are opting to wait, or worse, not bother. By ZEDfabric importing from China and reselling cheaply, they have neatly sidestepped around this.  Unfortunately, many of the links on the site are broken and I can’t figure out if this has been a success or not.

Sustainability is a unique conundrum. Is it better to reduce carbon by manufacturing close to home, buoying up the local economy and reinvigorating the manufacturing industry or is it better to import from China, increasing their wealth, and therefore increasing the likelihood that they will be able to afford to mitigate their environmental transgressions? It all depends on your worldview with regards to globalisation, economics and wealth.
It seems contradictory to me that Bill is happy to go off-grid locally, by relying on technologies produced many thousands of miles away? Pragmatic or hypocritical?  He is of course ‘trading’ his knowledge directly by being involved in the design of sustainable cities out there.

It’s the kind of thing which gets dissected much more eloquently by Jim or Tim.  Like I keep saying, the principles of low carbon building can escalate into much more complex debates.