Green Home Retrofits Compete for Cash

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Looks like energy efficient retrofits of public housing is becoming the green cause of the year — it’s cheap, fights climate change and cuts the energy bills of those who need them. This week the UK government launched a new competition, Retrofit for the Future, that’s offering a total of £10 million ($14.3 million) to builders as incentive to improve the energy efficiency and environmental performance of the UK’s public housing.

Run by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board, the competition starts in March and aims to deliver at least 50 demonstration projects. The Technology Strategy Board, which invests in UK technology firms and research and development, plans to put out a call for companies to bid for contracts to work with public housing groups under the competition.

The competition, though a nice idea, pales in comparison to the $6.2 billion to weatherize low-income homes that’s included in the house version of the U.S. stimulus bill. That cash, which needs to be spent under a tight deadline, will go toward a range of energy efficiency technologies, including new or upgraded insulation, windows and water heaters.

But it’s heartening that governments are finally seeing the importance of energy efficiency retrofits for buildings. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to fight climate change: according to the DOE Weatherization Program, a $1 invested returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits. And the energy consumed by homes is massive. In the U.S., residential homes accounted for 21 percent of all U.S. energy consumption in 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The UK is targeting an 80 percent cut to the carbon emitted from buildings by 2050, and over half of the homes people will be living in by then already exist today, according to the Technology Strategy Board. The UK public housing sector consists of more than 4.5 million homes.

In the UK competition, the Technology Strategy Board is offering 100 percent funding for each proposal, covering costs for the design and build phases, as well as in-use performance evaluation once the project’s complete. The board is looking at whole home or building solutions under the contest, and hopes to cover a broad range of housing types, including high-rises as well as small, semi-detached homes. But the board isn’t just looking at cuts in energy use and carbon emissions as part of the competition, it expects the renos will come at a reasonable cost as well.

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