The long-awaited government strategy on heat and buildings which was published last month (October) has received a mixed reaction.
The report was widely expected to set out how the challenge of reducing carbon emissions from Britain’s 30 million buildings could be addressed. Approximately 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from buildings, with 79% of this generated by heating, so decarbonising this is central if the government is to hit its target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
The strategy, which includes the promise of £5,000 grants to replace fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps, focuses largely on domestic buildings, which makes sense given that there are 28 million homes and just 1.7 million non-domestic buildings.
It highlights an aspiration to phase out gas boilers by 2033 and oil-fired ones by 2026, and includes other policies such as the tightening up of minimum energy performance standards for non-domestic buildings that are rented out from the current EPC rating of E to B by 2030 and privately rented homes from an E to a C.
The strategy also includes proposals to upgrade as many other homes as possible to an EPC C by 2035 and fuel-poor homes by 2030 where practicable, affordable and cost-effective to do so. Most of the £3.9bn of funding announced as part of the strategy will be spent on retrofitting social housing, the homes of those on low incomes and public sector buildings.
Other measures include a proposal that mortgage lenders declare the energy performance of their property portfolios, with voluntary targets to improve these to an average C rating by 2030. There is also funding for financial institutions to develop green finance products.
Although industry feedback suggests that there’s a complex journey ahead, it seems that heat pumps will be an important part of the solution. MiTek is a strong advocate for a zero carbon economy, and we believe our products such as Posi-joist will have an important part to play in enabling the heat pump vision to become a reality.
We’re already seeing this happen on housing schemes throughout the UK, both large and small. West Carclaze Garden Village in Cornwall, is a very good example. The 1500 home eco development is one of many net zero carbon projects using Posi-Joist as an integral part of the build, to allow for the smooth and easy installation of MVHR systems in every property. The open web nature of the system is giving architects and housebuilders the flexibility and commercial viability to build eco-homes, that meet and can surpass government targets.
It’s fair to say that not everyone is a fan of the long-delayed report. Some industry groups have criticised it for not going far enough in providing financial incentives for people to switch to green energy to heat their homes and buildings.
There’s disappointment that the strategy doesn’t appear to be well aligned with a national retrofit strategy.
There’s also concern over what some see as too much of an emphasis on heat pumps, without taking the wider context into consideration – for example, there’s little point in installing a heat pump if the building has poor insulation, as it simply won’t deliver the hoped-for result.
And installing and running heat pumps in domestic buildings is potentially an expensive exercise. For the average home-owner it’s hard to see the incentive. They’d have to upgrade their insulation significantly, which could cost as much as £25,000 – then there is the additional cost of the heat pump on top of that. It’s a lot of money.
At the same time, the promised boiler upgrade scheme is limited to £450m, enough for 90,000 installations over three years, which falls far short of the 600,000 installations that the strategy says are needed each year by 2028.
It seems the government is hoping their strategy when it comes to heat pumps will kick-start the market in the same way feed-in tariffs boosted demand for renewables, bringing prices down. The strategy expects heat pump costs to reduce by 25%-50% by 2025, with parity with boilers by 2030. But the view is that saying a heat pump could become as cheap as a gas boiler is very ambitious and rather unrealistic.
The strategy does say that a whole building approach to decarbonisation is needed – a sensible view – but how that will work in reality is less than clear. There’s also the knotty issue of EPCs when it comes to identifying performance and potential. Research suggests that many EPCs simply aren’t accurate, and this will need addressing if retrofit plans are going to be meaningful and effective.
From our perspective here at MiTek, we recognise that this strategy represents a start rather than a solution, but the good news is that regardless of the strategy, the industry is already making great strides in delivering zero carbon homes. It’s estimated that there are already 30,000 low carbon homes in the pipeline, an impressive turnaround in which the industry is leading the way, ahead of government regulation. We’re proud to be part of the solution enabling this change.