Low and Zero Carbon Technologies

What are low and zero carbon technologies?


Low and zero carbon technologies (LZC) are systems that emit low levels of CO2 or no net CO2 emissions. The application of these systems are more effective when designed with an efficient building fabric, and integrated passive design. This can bring a buildings overall CO2 emissions much closer to zero.

There are many different low and zero carbon technologies, that can provide various forms of energy, be it electricity, heating, cooling or a combination. Some of the more popular methods are outlined below.


  • Solar hot water
  • Solar photovoltaics
  • Wind turbines
  • Air source heat pumps
  • Ground source heat pumps
  • Biofuels
  • Combined heat and power
low zero carbon technologies 01
These low and zero carbon technologies cut down on our reliance on fossil fuels and in some cases allow for local generation installations where the energy is distributed locally.
Other benefits include the feed in tariff introduced by the government, where some LZC are able to receive payment for any excess energy generation that is fed back to the energy supply companies. This was a great incentive some years ago, with high feed in tariffs, which have now dropped quite significantly. An example of a solar photovoltaic tariff in 2011 of 46.00 per kWh, to 3.79 per kWh in 2018!

Why do we need low and zero carbon technologies


All buildings require energy, whether it is electricity for lighting or appliances or energy for heating and cooling. Most of the energy used to heat buildings, including electrical energy, comes from fossil carbon fuels such as oil and coal.


Right now, energy conservation is a significant concern in the quest for sustainability – with the burning of fossil fuels for buildings and their construction being responsible for about half of energy use in Britain. In the UK, most of the sources of CO2 emissions are from heating, lighting and ventilation in buildings, transportation of goods and people, industry and agriculture and building construction.

How to decide which low or zero carbon technology is right for your project


Although LZC technologies can be seen as the ‘green’ solution to the environmental problems we face, it is important to approach the design of buildings with a holistic strategy. 


Buildings are made to last up to 60 years, and often longer. Although windows, or energy supplies will be upgraded and changed throughout the life of the building, the fabric of the building will not. Therefore it is important to consider the fabric first, and future proof the external structure, ensuring it continues to perform well for the life of the building. Also including passive strategies in the design process, will ensure that the building continues to perform well and maximise energy savings. The decisions made in the early design stages will have long term consequences of energy consumption. 


Prior to deciding on which Low or Zero Carbon technology to use, it is important to consider the type of energy required:

  • Electricity
  • Heating
  • Cooling
  • A mix of all the above


An important factor in determining the suitable technology is the site and its constraints. The scale, location, density of the site will have an effect on the type of technology that can be specified. 


The following flow chart, adapted from The Environmental Design Design Pocketbook, demonstrates the decision process for the different low and zero carbon technologies available. 


Low and Zero Carbon Technologies decision chart

The following articles will look at each of the different technologies in more detail. 

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