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Passivhaus: the route to zero carbon?

Efficiency First

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Passivhaus and zero carbon


Recent reports have forecast that we only have a few years left to reduce emissions enough to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. Significantly reducing the emissions of our buildings is vital if the UK is to make a meaningful contribution and would lead by example when many countries are struggling to understand how to reduce emissions sufficiently. 

Currently, 35% of global energy consumption comes from the building sector alone. The energy in use (to operate buildings) is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions, the majority stemming from heating and cooling demand. The construction industry has a massive role in reducing this. Our buildings must go through a radical change to meet Net Zero targets and mitigate the worst of the Climate Crisis.  Improved efficiency is critical. It is no time to reinvent the wheel - the tools we need to deliver on our climate pledges exist today.


Why efficiency first?

Many cities and regions are moving towards a Zero Carbon goal for new housing to achieve genuine emissions reductions. Passivhaus buildings are optimised for Net Zero and meet the predicted capacity of our future decarbonised grid. Learn more about efficiency as the first renewable in this short video.The grid is decarbonising quickly. With the costs of renewable energy falling - why should we bother adding insulation or making properties more efficient? The graphic below highlights a few reasons why efficiency is a critical part of the decarbonisation journey. 

Why efficiency First?

A robust way to achieve zero-carbon buildings is to reduce energy demand to the Passivhaus standard and source renewable energy to meet the remaining minuscule demand. Renewable energy might be generated on-site or at a more cost-effective scale; large-scale renewables have the potential for a much lower life cycle cost and lower embodied carbon than domestic building-mounted PV. It is essential to account for the complete picture of how the building will use energy and the impact of the performance gap, storage losses, and the seasonality of renewable generation.

Get into the detail of these issues with our report Passivhaus: a route to zero carbon? If you are short on time, start with our suite of quick-read Primers – that condense the key messages.

PHT Primers

In summary, as we face a climate emergency, there are several ways in which Passivhaus can contribute to the solutions:

  • Achieving net zero on site is difficult – reducing demand to Passivhaus levels gives us the best chance of achieving it.
  • Achieving net zero as a nation is difficult. There will always be a finite amount of renewable energy. Our grid cannot deliver the peak power needed to heat our homes and hot water without slashing demand or without demand flexibility. Passivhaus helps with both limitations.
  • It is more economical to save energy than it is to generate it.

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Passivhaus Plus & Premium

We must transition away from fossil fuels to power the spaces where we live, work and play. In response to this, the Passivhaus Institute created Passivhaus Plus and Passivhaus Premium standards based upon a new calculation, renewable primary energy (PER), which takes into consideration renewable generation & storage. These new standards offer compliance with emerging definitions of Net Zero at the building level. They also require a further reduction in demand, making them suitable for ambitious net zero projects.  A selection of certified Plus & Premium projects in the UK can be found here.


Standards compared


Below we highlight a handful of Passivhaus projects addressing their zero carbon aspirations. More certified Plus & Premium projects in the UK can be found here.  You may also like to visit our Passivhaus & Embodied Carbon project selection.

Shepherds Barn EnerPHIt Plus © Mark Siddall
Hackbridge Primary School Passivhaus Plus. © Architype
Erne Campus, Image credit: South West College Max Fordham House

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Learn more 

We have a range of free resources in various formats:

Passivhaus: the route to zero carbon
Passivhaus Benefits: Research Summary Guide, 2021 LETI Climate Emergency Design Guide
Introduction to Passivhaus
Passivhaus: a route to zero carbon Getting to Net Zero: On-demand tutorials

Getting to Net Zero: On-demand tutorial series

Looking for something a bit more detailed? Explore and gain practical illustrations of what it takes to get to net zero in both operational and embodied carbon. What can be done at the design stage to achieve the most impact? This course could change the way you think about buildings. The popular online series of tutorials consists of 7 pre-recorded modules - complete at your leisure.


Getting to Net Zero on-demand tutorials: Book Now

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A short video explaining why an efficiency first approach to buildings is critical in mitigating the climate crisis.


Further Information

Passivhaus Plus & Premium

PHT Primers: Passivhaus as a route to net zero

Getting to Net Zero: on-demand tutorials

Passivhaus: a route to zero carbon - On-demand webinar June 2020

Passivhaus and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's)

Efficiency: The First Renewable Energy

Icebox Challenge Glasgow



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