“It is particularly ironic that the battle to save the world's remaining healthy ecosystems will be won or lost not in tropical forests or coral reefs that are threatened but on the streets of the most unnatural landscapes on the planet.”- Worldwatch Institute. 2007

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

October 6th Viverion, Lochem

Tuesday night Justin and Milena cycle me across town to a great Indonesian restaurant. It looks like a café – small with little formica tables, no alcohol – but the food is exquisite, especially a smoky mackerel fillet with a red paste topping wrapped and steamed in banana leaves and little crispy crackers made with nuts, completely lacking in the polystyrene texture of prawn crackers, with a peanut dipping sauce drizzled in soy, also a pot of fiery but sweet chilli sauce.
They tell me that there is a law in Holland that in any collision between a cyclist and a car the car is automatically assumed to be the guilty party, even if the cyclist has no lights or is riding badly. It’s been in place for a couple of years now (with complaints from some people but a big reduction in accidents involving cyclists) although they half jokingly, half seriously say it might not be around much longer with Mr. Wilders (who is viewed by everyone I meet here with the same sort of affection we have for Nick Griffin) in power. Since the recent election he has seen fit, as one of his first moves, to increase the maximum speed on the motorways from 120 to 130km. Good to know he's on the case with the really important issues! Afterwards we go to a bar with 164 types of beer – worryingly I recognize most of them but reassuringly we only have two as on Wednesday morning I am up and out early for the train to Deventer, across the country on the East side.
At the station I’m met by Bas from Itho Vent again who drives me to Lochem to meet with Henk. Henk works for Viverion, a social housing provider, and he gives me some background to their market as well as a project that they have ongoing at the moment. Whilst he lists the increasingly tight building regulations and EPBD as a driver it seems that social housing organisations across the board in Holland have chosen to target higher levels of energy efficiency and renewable energy generation for their own reasons - partly in preparation for what is coming, partly for corporate social responisbility but also because they want to. The have a ‘Gentlemans agreement’ he explains to all meet certain targets by 2020 – zero carbon in new build and 25% reductions in existing stock. How they approach this is up to the individual organisations.
As part of this Viverion have a development of 500 houses and are replacing them all between 2006 and 2016. One part of this, a collection of 57 houses is to be a test site for different technologies. From an initial list of 15 solutions they have trimmed it down to 5 which will be implemented. They have their calculations for the energy improvements they expect to see but are especially interested to see what impact resident behaviour will have on the results. The entire cost of the additional items will total 750 thousand euros, a bill that, with no grant funding, the association will have to foot. Legally they cannot charge more rent for low energy housing – there was some discussions around this in the government last spring but now with Wilders in neither Bas nor Henk seem confident that it will be back on the agenda any time soon – he has other priorities (like ensuring that cars can drive more quickly I say – they nod and laugh and I feel quite smug at being so well informed and up-to the-minute). The five levels of measures are as follows:

1. Demand flow ventilation – this is Itho’s product – the concept of carbon dioxide sensors in each room and humidity sensors in the bathroom giving ‘intelligent’ ventilation that will respond to the location of the occupants to provide adequate ventilation. At a cost uplift of 3K euros per house this lifts them just above the EPC value of 0.8 (in line with current regulations) to an EPC of 0.66.

2. Mechanical vent with heat recovery and low temperature underfloor heating, cost 7.5K euros, EPC rating 0.55

3. Increased insulation, mech vent with heat recovery, low temp underfloor heating, ground source heat pump, heat recovery from shower water, some solar PV and solar shading. This gets down to an EPC value of 0.29 (Passivhaus would typically achieve 0.3) but at a cost of 30K Euros

4. At this point they move into passivhaus construction (extreme insulation and airtightness). Heating is provided in these through the ventilation and solar thermal, solar shading and shower water heat recovery are all employed. EPC rating 0.27, cost 36K euros, so a much greater cost for a small reduction.

5. Staying with passivhaus they then add sufficient PV to provide the hot water as well getting up to a total of 40K euros and achieving an EPC rating of zero.

The interesting aspects of this project are the creation of a project team in the early stages that included suppliers of equipment who, in return for their input, will not be value engineered out in favour of someone who claims to do the same product for a few quid less and representatives of the residents association. Henk feels that this will be what makes the project work – because the whole team started with a common goal and aim in mind and worked together to create the whole concept, before they split off into their traditional roles and financial responsibilities.
The other key factor is the time this process has taken. The project was conceived five years ago, it took three years to come up with the ‘long list’ of 15 solutions and another year to whittle it down to five, which is where they are now. Construction has just started and they will complete in October 2011. They are still working out how they are going to monitor things like customer satisfaction and behaviour and plan an initial monitoring period of two years so I reckon on not much less than a decade to have some really useful conclusions – it’s a long time but a lot of thought has gone in.
I ask about other aspects – water, transport etc but with it being an existing development they haven’t had to look at these, although Henk tells me it’s a matter done by the planners on new build.
I catch another train to Utrecht and then another to the Hague. I retrieve the newbike from the underground bike storage at the station – this is in addition to all the free parking areas they provide. It's safe and dry, open from 4.30 in the morning until 2 the next morning. And costs 1 euro 20 per day. They have a bicycle repair shop and hire bikes there too. I ride home, with my lights on, trying not to let the knowledge that car drivers will be in the wrong if they hit me make me any less observant. It’s dark by the time I’m back at base. Last day tomorrow – a last minute meeting with Rotterdam Climate initiative has been arranged at 9.30 tomorrow morning and then time to see if everything will fit back in my panniers and head for the ferry.

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