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National hurricane of vilification about the use and abuse of “Zero Carbon Solar”.

Filed under: Latest News

Goodbye, Zero Carbon Solar! 1999-2011. RIP aged 12.

ASA decision A11-169818 responding to complaints made by ONE non-commercially linked householder.

Breathe deeply and exhale. I invite you to read to the end of this (while transferring CO2 from your blood, into your alveoli and then into the atmosphere).

Although, as constant innovators, we are very used to breaking new ground, my colleagues and I are appalled by being at the centre of a hurricane of national vilification about the use and definition of the phrase “Zero Carbon Solar”. This is because the ASA have adjudicated against us, after 12 years of us using the term “Zero Carbon Solar” on our “strapline” without ASA challenging us before.

I’d be very interested to know what readers think about this decision.

On the one hand, it is, I hope, utterly obvious that all manufactured products incur CO2 emissions during their manufacture, even though this is clearly the point of purity where the decision of the ASA resides. On the other hand, and now we are looking at the five fingers on this hand:

1/ The ASA say that environmental claims must be assumed to default to as wide as possible life cycle boundary. Well, stupidly taking ASA at the word, we took part in a wide “life cycle analysis” study by Bath University. It showed that UK solar installations, during their lives, pay back their “embodied carbon” of manufacture, far beyond breakeven, indeed, by a factor of 6-20 times! This is obviously far, far better than mere zero carbon. Not worse. So why did the ASA ignore their own “wide life cycle boundary” criterion? We thought that we had very obviously, not just met their zero carbon, but indeed, that we had far exceeded it. Puzzled? Read on…

2/ In addition, the UK Government liberally sprinkes the term “Low and Zero Technology” over most of their abundant energy policy documents and speeches. It this a term or a mere condiment? If the government are going to witter on about zero carbon technology, the surely Joe Public is allowed to assume that the zero carbon technology end of their clearly stated and restated spectrum actually exists (that is, exists outside all the hot air of politics). So why can’t we say Zero Carbon Solar? Our government clearly countenances zero carbon technology. We’d like to have a fair chance to do so too, particularly with respect to installing solar in British homes, something we have done many thousands of times.

3/ After all, the UK’s ambitious building regulations programme for new homes to be built by 2016 actually specify that all homes must be (in government words) “Zero Carbon Homes“. This ubiquitous term was officially defined in spring 2011, following extensive consultation. The very existence of this official term raises an interesting question of, at the very least, parity of expression:

5/ If the term, Zero Carbon Home exists legitimately, but, perhaps, from now on, in the circumstances, it should not exist legitimately any more, but we trustingly assumed that it was a legitimate term, then surely at least some of the technologies within those homes, those technologies which actually help to deliver this zero carbon performance should, themselves, be allowed to be described as being zero carbon, or even beyond zero carbon? By the way, an official British Zero Carbon Home is officially defined as having a zero average annual operating carbon budget, just like… (Stop stop stop. Nghhhhh. Painful tonguebite.)

So… I am sorry if, over the past 12 carefree years, we really have, as the ASA seem to think, been misleading thousands of people, by saying Zero Carbon. Have thousands of deceived householders really bought solar panels from us, truly believing that we had magicked-up a totally carbon-free manufacture process, without telling the rest pf the world? I really hope not! (Fancy managing to patent such a brilliant green manufacturing process: if only!)

I am sorry that, for the past 12 years, we really have, as the ASA have damningly concluded, been making “misleading, unsubstantiated environmental claims to the detriment of consumers”. On reflection, perhaps we (and all solar consumers) should really be saying “Better than Zero Carbon”? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ASA’s Zero Carbon Solar decision, and on the wider “Zero Carbon Thingummy” issue.

Please feel free to tweet me or to to write a comment here.

Regards, Barry.


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