Domestic energy bills could be reduced to almost zero if Northern Ireland embraces the latest sustainable construction technology.
A seminar in Newtownards this week saw industry pioneers demonstrate how developments like low carbon, passive and zero carbon housing can make a difference to household budgets, the wider economy and the environment, not in the future but right now.
The Green Party has called on the Executive to make support for sustainable construction and energy efficient housing a key element of a Green New Deal to aid Northern Ireland’s economic recovery.
South Belfast representative Clare Bailey said: “Northern Ireland has the highest energy bills and a fuel poverty rate three times that for England. With oil and gas prices continuing to rise, we have a simple choice: condemn future generations to more fuel poverty or use the technology we already have to reduce energy bills by 90% or even to zero.
“Our construction industry will reap the rewards if it is among the early adopters. A commitment from the Executive to support energy efficiency in new social housing and in existing housing through grants will act as an incentive to ensure the skills are developed to establish Northern Ireland as a world leader.
“But with England already planning to make zero carbon housing mandatory from 2016, we need to move fast to avoid being left behind.”
The key message from the seminar, held at the South Eastern Regional College’s environmental skills centre, was:
A conventionally built home of 200m2 costs £2,600 per year to heat; a low carbon home would cost £520, a passive home £260 and a zero carbon home absolutely nothing.
Low carbon and passive housing need not be significantly more expensive to construct than conventional housing if a sufficient number of units are built at the same time. Zero carbon buildings are more expensive because a renewable electricity source (wind turbine or photovoltaic solar panels) must be provided.
Superinsulated building materials are already being produced in the UK and Ireland and training in the appropriate construction techniques can take as little as two weeks.
The seminar in Newtownards was attended by Green Party activist Mark Simpson and fellow members of the Village community, who are working to ensure the current redevelopment of the South Belfast estate makes the greatest possible impact on fuel poverty in the area, were among the audience.
Mark Simpson said: “It was inspiring to hear what can be achieved with new build housing today, but it was equally encouraging to learn that it is possible to achieve energy efficiency standards by retrofitting existing housing that are almost as high.
“A large scale project like the Village provides a great opportunity to showcase the potential of both new build and retrofit technologies; a large scale project will also spur the development of a skills base for future low carbon developments. It is up to the Executive to show that it is serious about cutting energy bills and carbon emissions.”