Don't give the green light to 'eco-bling'
BEWARE of eco-bling! What's needed instead to sort out our home energy issues for the future is not green faddism, but simple synergy.
A wacky vision of 'The Green House of The Future' in the Wall Street Journal tantalised readers with leaf-like exterior designs that absorb sunlight, and "biomorphic" cladding skins that react to the weather like a solar chameleon.
Such things appear pretty fanciful to us here, of course, given the current state of our economy and the struggle to secure a sustainable future.
Fighting for their very livelihoods and with Nama breathing down their necks, our builders are increasingly entangled by a deluge of often confusing red tape gushing relentlessly forth from the Energy Regulator, the DOE, SEI, the Building Regulations and local authorities.
Leading developer Michael Cosgrave -- echoing the mood of most of his colleagues -- believes this Government is sending the construction industry down a blind alley.
"Part L1 of the 2008 Building Regulations, for example, seeks to make every development a mini-power station," Mr Cosgrave contends.
For the record, Part L1 imposes the requirement that every new dwelling constructed must be able to produce renewable energy for its own consumption.
"Part L1 essentially shifts the responsibility for producing energy away from the utility providers who are more qualified to produce it and places the responsibility on non-experts using unproven technology," the leading builder says.
Mr Cosgrave's arguments are buttressed by "eco-minimalist" Howard Liddell of Gaia Architects, who believes that attempts to make buildings more energy-efficient by installing expensive "green technologies" have merely resulted in the rise of "eco-bling".
Solar panels, photovolatic cells and wind turbines are now the "new cool". Better insulation, lagging and double glazing are overshadowed by whizzy green gadgetry.
A raft of academics and practitioners of sustainable energies are of the like mind that money is being spent on micro-renewable energy systems when extra insulation and draught-proofing would be more effective.
Architect Liddell has slammed new housing schemes advertising "10pc of energy from renewables" when research showed clearly that the best way to achieve energy efficiency was simply to reduce waste.
The optimum measure was "super insulation", making a house air-tight "instead of heating the sky."
Now, for his part, Mick Cosgrave is by no means anti-green. Far from it.
"The transition to greener practices needs to happen, but needs to be guided by an informed vision", he states.
"Policy makers and utility providers need to work together to create achievable targets for a safe transition to a sustainable future.
"Bad decisions made now will sentence generations to live with the consequences."
The greatest testament to Mr Cosgrave's green credentials must surely be the landmark Lansdowne Gate development in Dublin, which was hailed for its ground-breaking energy efficient components.
And the most damning indictment of recent home heating policy must be that, if Lansdowne Gate was constructed today, it would actually be non-compliant with new energy rulings.
Not only that, but to make it compliant, the Cosgrave Group would have to lose some of its energy efficient features and actually become less efficient.
"The approach the legislators wish us to take is at a micro level," Mr Cosgrave elaborates "This maximises inefficiencies. It uses people's homes as testing grounds.
"Meaningful solutions will be found only at macro level. In other words, get utility providers to build a plant to service a community."
The European Union, meantime, is clearly taking a positive line on district heating (DH). Their statements compel member states -- Ireland included -- to recommend district heating to developers/planners.
The EU line is that DH should be included on grant aided schemes.
"From our own research, I am convinced that the larger the district the better," Mr Cosgrave concludes. "It seems clear to me that renewable energy production will improve dramatically in time.
"When it does, the best position to be in is one where we have reduced energy demand and have centralised plants that can be more easily upgraded than a plant in every household or building.
"While we have only managed 280 apartments in our 'micro-district' at Lansdowne Gate, what if it were 100,000 or 200,000 houses? How great could the benefits be?"