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Greens follow Blues

THINK twice about using solar for heating your house. And watch out for maintenance problems with woodchip-burning biomass boilers. Such was among the practical advice picked up by visitors to four experimental ‘eco-homes’ in Nottingham in an exclusive tour organised by Nottinghamshire GreenTech Business Network. The green tourists were all guests of the University of Nottingham’s award-winning Creative Energy Homes project, which is a living experiment in energy-efficient building techniques and materials.

All of the eco-homes are inhabited by PhD students, which gives university researchers valuable real-time feedback about the ‘livability’ of the homes and the effectiveness of green building design. Back in March one of the project buildings, the E.ON 2016 house, hosted a sleepover by two of the Blue Peter team, Helen Skelton and Barney Harwood, plus Blue Peter dog Barney. The reported result of this TV experiment were that that their carbon footprint was three times larger than that of an average family home.
But with the cameras and Barney the dog gone, the E.ON house, which is a retrofitted 1930s semi achieving level four in the sustainable homes code, now saw a visit by over 20 guests on the GBN tour. Energy improvements to this property have added an additional £7,000 on its normal value, visitors were told. The semi next to it, the Tarmac House, which achieves the highest level six, had shot up in value by £30,000. If such be the case, who says there is no equity gain from making efficiency improvements to your home?
Two more homes were visited, including the newest BASF House, which is built on passivhaus principles and has a heat exchanger standing proudly in the foreground. Despite being packed with electronic equipment, this pleasantly light and airy home won the guests’ popular vote for its livability. A biomass boiler, which was used in the previous home, had not been installed here because of experiences with maintenance problems. One other home visited made an immediate impression because of its small wind turbines and arrangements of PV and vacuum tube solar heat units on the frontage. But the tour guide warned that using solar for heating in the UK was not advisable – because there simply isn’t enough sun. “If anyone is thinking of using solar for heating, it’s not a good idea because the amount of space it requires is huge,” he said. “I’m talking about 50m2. In Spain we use solar for heating and cooling and we use 40m2 of solar collectors. It’s too much.” 
*Two other GBN events have been held this summer. One was a green finance event at the University of Nottingham on June 16 where the speakers were John Banbury, head of Banbury Innovations; Ian Burrow, head of agriculture and renewable energy at RBS Group; Darryn Evans, director for business development for RBS and NatWest in Nottinghamshire; Tom Moore, of the Manufacturing Advisory Service; and business funding consultant Steve Potts.
An event about low-carbon skills training was also held at BioCity on July 27. The speakers were: Peter Caffry, project manager for Construction Futures in Northamptonshire;  David Drury, vice principal of market development at South Nottingham College; Kevin Gowdy director of construction at New College Nottingham;  Dave Matthews, of renewable energy installation company SASIE; and Patrick Maxwell, who develops learning in low carbon and renewable engineering in construction at Stephenson College in Coalville.

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