By Max Clarke

Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang visited BRE Innovation Park in Watford today, a development of low carbon homes that showcases the UK’s excellence in sustainable building.

China, the world’s second biggest economy, is the biggest spender on clean energy in the world. In 2009, China spent $34.6 billion on clean energy - 86% more than the US, which invests the second largest amount.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said:

“The UK is already a world leader in many low carbon goods and services. We are changing the way the world thinks about carbon, from our proactive regulatory environment and carbon reporting through to collaboration and accountability throughout the supply chain.

“This is nowhere more evident than in the construction sector where sustainability is at its heart. BRE Innovation Park is a great example of what can be achieved in low carbon and I am delighted to bring Vice-Premier Li to this centre of excellence.”

The BRE Innovation Park is designed to give a glimpse of how the future delivery of sustainable buildings and communities can be achieved not only in the UK but around the world. It demonstrates the UK’s strengths and expertise in large-scale low carbon infrastructure.

The park features ten of the world's most sustainable houses, a health centre of the future, a refurbished Victorian terrace house and over 400 different construction innovations and emerging technologies as well as a state-of-the-art community landscape design.

Collectively, these projects demonstrate diverse and innovative approaches to sustainable design and construction. They each share the common goal of having a low impact on the environment but a high impact on the quality of life of building and community occupants and CO2 emissions reduction.

Vice-Premier Li arrived in the UK on a four-day visit on Sunday. On Monday, deals worth £2.6 billion were signed between UK and Chinese firms and the Chinese authorities gifted a breeding pair of two giant pandas to Edinburgh Zoo. The visit follows on from the UK’s largest ever ministerial mission to China last year led by Prime Minister David Cameron when deals worth over £1 billion were signed.

Showcasing the best of the UK offer on low carbon has been a central theme throughout the visit. On Sunday, Vice-Premier Li visited the Pelamis wave energy converter project at Leith Port in Scotland. The converter forms a unique system to generate renewable electricity from ocean waves, and the company has won many awards in the field of renewable energy.

One of the agreements signed during Vice-Premier Li’s visit was a memorandum of understanding on UK-China low carbon co-operation, which will focus initially on the exchange of practical policy expertise for low carbon pilots in the Chinese cities of Chongqing, Guangdong and Hubei, which together have a combined population of 180 million.

A further agreement was signed during the visit between Altek and Xiyuan on a pilot project on sustainable construction, which will contribute to the delivery of the UK-Chongqing Sustainable Cities Action Plan signed between UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Chongqing government.

BRE Innovation Park

Among the buildings that the Chinese delegation saw today were:

BARRATT GREEN HOUSE — mainstreaming low carbon technology

The Barratt Green House was the first house on the Innovation Park to be built by a mainstream house builder. The house was designed by architects Gaunt Francis to meet both level six of the Code for Sustainable Homes and the Government's criteria for zero stamp duty. High levels of thermal mass in the structure reduce the need for cooling during the hotter summers predicted to be a feature of climate change, and flexible internal spaces allow different layouts to suit changing family needs.

High performance triple glazing and thermally-broken wooden frames allow sufficient glazing to bring daylighting across the depth of the accommodation. The distinctive shutters are an attractive feature, but also optimise solar gain, control overheating and prevent glare, and offer potential insulation benefits. A whole-house mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery (MVHR) warms incoming fresh air using heat from air being exhausted from the building, and circulates it to the habitable rooms by a ductwork system.


The Cub House is designed by property developer Charlie Greig and manufactured in the UK by FutureForm. This ultra-modern and highly sustainable modular home is suitable for both social and private housing applications. The steel frame Cub house can be clad in timber, brick or an innovative fibreglass cladding, and comes complete with fitted kitchen and bathroom in 51m2 modules. It competes on cost with traditional house building and demonstrates outstanding green credentials including:

Recycled material - 65% of the primary material - steel - is recycled

Insulation - the walls are super-insulated to minimise heat loss.

PV power -PV panels come with each home as standard.

Heating - each Cub home is fitted with an exhaust air heat pump that ventilates the house as well as providing space heating and hot water.

Water - rainwater harvesting and water saving devices are standard features.

Victorian Terrace — making older homes energy-efficient

As part of the rethinking housing refurbishment project, a disused Victorian stable block at the centre of the BRE Watford site has been transformed into three energy-efficient terraced homes fit for 21st century living. This project demonstrates best practice refurbishment including the latest processes, materials and technological advances. The stable block exhibited all of the problems associated with pre-1919 housing including solid brick walls, sash windows, a clay tile roof, dampness, disrepair and poor thermal performance. The design and renovation specification set tough performance targets whilst requiring the original character of the building to be retained. Low carbon materials and intelligent products were incorporated along with a digital communication infrastructure that monitors the condition and performance of the building and provides tele-assisted care for those needing it.