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Zero Energy Development troubles in London

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  • Christopher Miller
    An article from the Guardian yesterday describes troubles in the four year old BedZED, the Zero Energy Development designed by Bill Dunster architects (
    Message 1 of 1 , May 20, 2006
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      An article from the Guardian yesterday describes troubles in the four
      year old BedZED, the "Zero Energy Development" designed by Bill
      Dunster architects ( http://www.zedfactory.com/home.html ). An
      interesting quote about the role (or lack of it) of a car-sharing
      scheme (the development is not at all car*free*):
      Research carried out by BioRegional suggests that BedZed residents
      emit 40% less carbon than the average UK household, with the largest
      savings coming from CHP (16%) and the car club (11%). The
      architecture itself accounted for only 3% of carbon savings, it says.
      "We realised that the big benefits are coming from the car clubs and
      the lifestyle side," says Desai. "We didn't think we had to spend so
      much on buildings when they contribute such a tiny amount of the
      person's carbon footprint."

      (...)

      Meanwhile, Dunster, whose latest low-carbon projects include a 145-
      unit development about to be constructed in Leicester and projects in
      China, says BioRegional's figures for BedZed are "rather misleading"
      and that the car club, in particular, has failed to take off."Most
      people who come to BedZed haven't given up their cars, and they
      aren't eating local food," he says. "It's not the buildings that
      aren't working, it's the profligacy of a modern consumer society. The
      really successful part of the project has been the ultra energy-
      efficient building fabric, the solar electric panels and the fact
      that residents get garden space and a 15% increase in their floor
      area [with the passive solar conservatories]. The conservatories are
      the one thing most people really, really like."

      A link to the article:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/renewable/Story/0,,1776166,00.html

      ========================================================
      Living in a dream

      Residents moving in to the BedZed development believed they would be
      at the forefront of an eco-friendly existence - then things started
      to go wrong. Terry Slavin investigates if its zero-carbon goal is
      within reach

      Wednesday May 17, 2006
      The Guardian

      On a rainy day in Sutton, south London, the brightly-coloured wind
      cowels do not seem to rotate on the roofs of the BedZed housing
      development with quite the same vigour as they did in the early days.
      Indeed, four years after opening, BedZed's mission to show how people
      can live without exceeding their fair share of the world's resources
      has yet to be fulfilled. The biomass-fuelled system providing zero-
      carbon heat and electricity to 100 homes finally packed up early last
      year, forcing BedZed to draw its electricity entirely from the
      National Grid on what, residents were dismayed to discover, was not
      even a green tariff.

      Meanwhile, the other linchpin of BedZed's ethos - its Living Machine,
      which uses reed beds to filter sewage water for use in toilets and
      gardens - has been out of operation for the past seven months because
      the Peabody Trust, the housing association that commissioned BedZed
      from BioRegional Development Group, an entrepreneurial, independent
      environmental organisation, could not afford to replace the operator.
      Peter Wright, a development manager at the trust, says the project
      was over-ambitious, using untested technology and a complicated
      wastewater treatment system that were not economic to run. "I don't
      think BedZed was properly understood [before it was commissioned],"
      Wright says. "It was a demonstration project. We're a charity, formed
      to house people in need, rather than to subsidise the biomass industry."
      But Bill Dunster, BedZed's architect, who has built a career
      propagating BedZed's design principles around the world, says
      solutions to the community's problems are at hand and the project
      that made his name is close to getting back on its zero-carbon track.
      Silent forbearance

      It cannot come soon enough for BedZed's close-knit group of residents
      who have sat out the problems with the development in silent
      forbearance, although, according to a study in 2003 by the estate
      agent Savills, resale values at BedZed were on average 15% higher
      than property in the surrounding area, which may explain residents'
      reticence about publicising the problems.

      Resident Helen Woolston says: "We're in the worst of all situations,
      buying all our gas, getting electricity from the national grid, and
      we're not even on a green tariff." But now they "see light at the end
      of the tunnel", she says. And, even with the teething problems, she
      has no regrets about choosing BedZed.

      Woolston, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her three-year-
      old daughter, Isabella, signed up to her flat when she first saw it
      as a concrete shell. The alternative was a dingy, converted Victorian
      terrace. "I've always wanted to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and
      I couldn't believe my luck," Woolston says on finding the flat. "It's
      not huge, but there's plenty of light, and there's a really nice
      feeling on a sunny day."

      She shows off her "sky garden", a patch of grass on top of the
      apartment block facing her, accessible via a footbridge. Dunster sees
      the Babylonian-style gardens as his signature innovation, allowing
      people to live at Soho densities without sacrificing home counties'
      comforts.

      As well as a sky garden, all the residents have access to troughs to
      grow vegetables, a focus for communal activity that has helped
      nurture an extraordinary community spirit at BedZed. For Woolston,
      "the social side is almost the best bit".

      Although the zero-carbon living has failed to materialise, Woolston
      points out that because the houses are so well-insulated and the wind-
      driven ventilation system is so efficient, there is barely any need
      for heat. "We wanted to be as green as possible - not necessarily
      zero carbon. I have felt positive that by existing in this place we
      are using less electricity, heat and water."

      Sue Riddlestone, a director of BioRegional, concedes that there have
      been problems. As a resident herself, she has had to withstand a few
      tepid showers. But she says the use of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells
      has cut electricity bills and BedZed uses water a third more
      efficiently than other developments of its size, even without the
      Living Machine in operation. "With projects like BedZed, which are
      pioneering and ahead of their time, it's not unusual for parts of it
      not to work so well," she says. "But everyone wants to get back to
      the zero-carbon position."

      The first upturn in BedZed's fortunes came late last year when Thames
      Water agreed to take over the Living Machine and run it alongside new
      technology from the US. It is due to move in to BedZed later this
      year. Additionally, Dunster says, a replacement technology to provide
      heat and power from biomass has been identified to fill the gap left
      by the failed combined heat and power (CHP) system, which was so
      unreliable that Peabody installed gas boilers after the first winter.
      Dunster says he is now talking to the Greater London Authority's
      Climate Change Agency and the Carbon Trust about funding for the new
      system. "If things go well, there's a good chance we'll have the
      plant replaced in time for winter," he says.

      And Dunster is excited about the prospect of finally fulfilling one
      of the original ambitions of BedZed: being able to offer organic,
      zero-carbon food to residents through a new offshoot of his Zed
      empire. He has located an organic farm in Kent where the tractors run
      on rapeseed oil and, it is hoped, power needs are to be met by wind
      turbines and a methane biodigester CHP system. The project in Kent is
      about to apply for planning permission for the green technology. If
      it goes ahead, electric delivery vehicles will bring the food to
      BedZed and Dunster's other urban communities in London, ensuring that
      the deliveries rack up no carbon food miles. "You can start to see
      how it's really possible to lead a zero-fossil fuel lifestyle," he says.

      But aside from getting their wayward child back on its zero-carbon
      track, BioRegional and Dunster are moving in their own directions in
      their approach to green design.

      BioRegional has created a blueprint for low carbon living with WWF
      called One Planet Living, which it is acting as consultant on
      projects across the world. And last year it teamed up with FTSE-
      listed firm Quintain, developer for the £1.3bn regeneration of
      Wembley, in a joint venture called Bioregional Quintain to build
      projects in the UK.

      Two Bioregional Quintain projects - 500 homes in Middlesbrough and
      170 apartments in Brighton - have been submitted for planning
      permission, but its most ambitious plan is for a 2,000-home zero-
      carbon development in the proposed Thames Gateway called Z-squared,
      for which it hopes to find a site this year.

      Biomass-derived energy and low carbon food and transport
      infrastructures are major features of the proposed developments, but
      you will search in vain to find the south-facing conservatories and
      wind-driven ventilation system beloved by Dunster in BedZed.

      Pooran Desai, sustainability director of BioRegional Quintain, says
      BedZed "may have been a step too far" in its radical architectural
      design. Desai, also a BedZed resident, says the conservatories trap
      heat in the winter, but overheat during summer, at a time when
      summers in Britain are getting warmer. They, and other building-
      integrated technologies such as PV panels and wind cowels, add
      significantly to the costs, he says.

      Research carried out by BioRegional suggests that BedZed residents
      emit 40% less carbon than the average UK household, with the largest
      savings coming from CHP (16%) and the car club (11%). The
      architecture itself accounted for only 3% of carbon savings, it says.

      "We realised that the big benefits are coming from the car clubs and
      the lifestyle side," says Desai. "We didn't think we had to spend so
      much on buildings when they contribute such a tiny amount of the
      person's carbon footprint."

      He says BioRegional Quintain does not want to be doctrinaire about
      design. "We want to see a diversity of developments with the
      aspiration of people reducing their carbon footprints."

      Meanwhile, Dunster, whose latest low-carbon projects include a 145-
      unit development about to be constructed in Leicester and projects in
      China, says BioRegional's figures for BedZed are "rather misleading"
      and that the car club, in particular, has failed to take off.

      "Most people who come to BedZed haven't given up their cars, and they
      aren't eating local food," he says. "It's not the buildings that
      aren't working, it's the profligacy of a modern consumer society. The
      really successful part of the project has been the ultra energy-
      efficient building fabric, the solar electric panels and the fact
      that residents get garden space and a 15% increase in their floor
      area [with the passive solar conservatories]. The conservatories are
      the one thing most people really, really like."

      Cut-price wind turbines

      Unlike BioRegional, whose developments, such as the project in
      Brighton, will draw much of their zero-carbon energy from offsite
      sources such as wind turbines, Dunster believes energy must be
      generated on site. And he thinks he's solved the cost problem. From
      this month, he will begin selling to the public and the construction
      industry cut-price wind turbines and solar panels that he has
      imported from China - a move that will generate considerable heat in
      the UK's fledgling renewables industry.

      The schism between the developer and architect is seen in their
      approach to solving the problems at BedZed, with Dunster working hard
      to find a replacement biomass CHP system, and Desai arguing for the
      more tried and tested technology of biomass heating, with electricity
      imported on a green tariff.

      Amid the flying sparks, Wright has tried hard to keep his head down.
      He's not convinced that the new heat and power system that Dunster is
      championing will get the necessary funding or, more importantly, work
      as it should. At the same time, getting on a green tariff, he says,
      is easier said than done: electricity supplier EDF has rebuffed
      BedZed's attempts to buy green electricity, saying government
      agencies have cornered the market.

      "It's ironic," Wright says. "Green tariff electricity comes from
      places like BedZed. The new CHP system could be the answer, but it
      needs a bigger picture to make it happen. We need a different
      investment model if it's going to be biomass based."

      But Dunster firmly believes that the funding is in place and that
      BedZed will soon get back on track. "In a year's time, the original
      ambition when we started this project will be on offer to residents,"
      he insists. "All the people who have been detracting and knocking it
      for all these years are going to look very silly."

      ========================================================

      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada
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