Interview: Sero Homes on building the ‘world’s first’ zero carbon neighbourhood

Parc Hadau in south Wales is billed to be one of the ‘world’s first‘ true zero carbon neighbourhoods.

It will be the first scheme in the country to meet the UK Green Building Council’s definition of net-zero carbon, by tracking real-time ‘in-use’ carbon emissions when the homes are running.

Opening later this year, It’s been created by Cardiff-based Sero Homes and residents will create more renewable energy than they use, through solar panels, air-source heat pumps and energy-storing batteries. Environment Journal spoke to Sero’s co-founder, Andy Sutton, to find out more.

Why is zero or low-carbon technology still not a mainstream part of modern housebuilding?

The housebuilding industry hasn’t needed to modernise. There are five or six big housebuilders and they’ve tied up the land supply. The way land is available tends to favour larger housebuilders.

These big housebuilders effectively have not had to do more than the minimum and they’ve been driven by regulation, and because they’ve got such a stranglehold on new homes, they’ve also had a stranglehold on how far that regulation pushes.

They are just doing whatever sensible business would do. They are satisfying the market need but we happen to think that approach isn’t in the best interest of wider society.

The brutal truth is there are barriers wherever we turn, but we are minded to surmount them.

What is your model for selling the homes?

A key difference to our approach is we’re not slaves to selling the homes. At the moment, you can’t sell a zero-carbon house for any significantly more than a building regulation minimum house.

What we’ve said is, let’s not sell the homes. In Europe and the US, many people live in professionally managed long-term homes. It’s a common model.

With this long-term rental income, we can refinance that in a better fashion so we can pay more for construction and better zero-carbon initiatives.

Too many farmers consider their fields to be a pension fund. They try and sell for too much money, and the housebuilders effectively don’t have as much for scope in construction costs, if their land value was much lower. And at the end of it, you have a squeezed construction budget that doesn’t allow a good quality, low energy home. That’s the dilemma that they are trapped in.

The homes will have a live emissions tracker. How will this work?

Andy Sutton, Sero Homes

Once the homes are built, we have an app and take on the function of a smart heating system. For example, we will ask our residents what temperature they want the living room or at what time do they want hot water? We then take their criteria and remotely control their home to deliver what they want in the most efficient way possible.

We do that because all our homes have low carbon energy demand systems. At any one point in the day, we are looking at individual demands for the home such as the weather forecast or the price of electricity on the grid to help decide what temperature they need. The algorithm is making decisions all the time.

All the equations are running to deliver the resident the right power at the lowest cost and with the lowest use of carbon. We live track grid emissions and their electrical usage, so we can equate their carbon emissions and whether that’s a positive emission or a negative emission.

You’ve had some financial support from the Welsh Government to get up and running. What other support would you like to see from the government to encourage more low-carbon homes? 

Raising minimum standards for housebuilding would drive the big housebuilders, but these minimum standards are so far behind what we’re doing. They are not really our main problem. Ours is engaging with Ofgem and the big energy suppliers and the National Grid to ensure we are running our infrastructure in the most supportive way to the Grid. If anything, legislation that tackles barriers around the energy market are more relevant to us.

If the UK could also push lenders to genuinely asses new homeowners if they did that more accurately they will see low energy homes are lower costs to run, so homebuyers could borrow less money. That creates a market value difference between energy-hungry homes and unhungry homes. That’s the market forces we need to change to get the whole of the UK changed.

We know technically how to build a zero-carbon home – but they are all kind of smaller-scale problems compared to the housing market doesn’t value a zero-carbon home compared to a leaky old gas builder. Without that end value its difficult to gain value. With the challenges around the land, we don’t have much to play within the construction pot.

Parc Hadau is a statement of intent. Its true zero carbon. I get quite nerdy about the definition of that. More importantly, it’s built around engendering community and biodiversity. It’s a proper neighbourhood of zero-carbon, pleasant homes to live in. That’s the success.

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Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

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Sian Richards
Sian Richards
5 months ago

This sounded great until I got to “For example, we will ask our residents what temperature they want the living room or at what time do they want hot water?” How does this work? Anyone used to having a combi boiler wants hot water when they turn on the hot water tap.

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