Committing to phasing out high carbon fossil fuels in new and existing homes is one thing but taking the appropriate action in order to achieve this is different altogether. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has already stated that the phase out in new and existing homes will occur during the 2020s, yet with such broad and uncertain timing teamed with lack of policy surrounding this, it’s all too obvious that we’re not doing enough. Right now, how can we commend our government’s intentions when there are incredible opportunities at hand that might very well be missed?
We’re commendably building more homes per year than ever recorded but whilst it is essential that we build enough homes to meet demand, we need to make sure these new buildings are in line with the Clean Growth Strategy right from the start. With up to 275,000 more homes to be built per year, we need to see policy that ensures these homes are also clean, renewable and affordable to live in. Around 20% of UK emissions come from buildings, so we simply can’t build these new houses to the standard that we’re seeing today. Granted, there are minimum requirements for new builds at present but with so many homes being added to the overall stock, we need to ensure that we get the heating system right. Our new policy paper, ‘Heating our Homes – A policy Pathway to development a viable heat pump market’ welcomes continued commitment from the government and draws much needed attention to the extra work that needs to be done.
To start with, there is no easier or cheaper time to amend our heating system than in the stages of building a home from scratch. This is the time to ensure that homes are thermally efficient and that lower temperature requirements are met in order to reduce the need for expensive retrofits later down the line. What we don’t want to see is thousands more inefficient homes that are costly to the environment and for consumers. New homes need to be built with low carbon heating but whilst the technology is out there, the policy to support it is sadly not.
2019 marks the year for change. It’s an important year as any for green policy and with Building Regulations due to be consulted on in the coming months, we need to see a vast improvement. Rightly so, our policy paper recommends tightening standards to phase out high carbon fossil fuels, mandatory low carbon heating systems in off-grid areas and that, when used, fossil fuel heating systems are low temperature ready and that the maximum dwelling emission rate is reduced over time. With these requirements in place, our paper considers new builds fitted with LPG boilers to those fitted with heat pumps and has sided with the latter. Sure, LPG reduces carbon emissions in comparison to oil, but it does little to reduce running costs. With heat pumps, the upfront capital cost may well be higher but with average savings of £1,652 in running costs throughout its lifetime, the difference is significant enough to conclude which way to go.
We’ve seen that the general public acknowledge the need for renewable energy, but we have yet to see this awareness reflected in the uptake of renewable heating systems. This is hardly surprising when we look at the barriers that consumers are faced with. With our findings showing that 43% view cost as a barrier, and with the knowledge that 14% of households in rural villages are fuel poor, where is the policy to allow our poorer households to access low carbon, future proofed heating systems that will decarbonise the UK housing stock? With limited options but to use fossil burning boilers in an already expensive to heat home, there is little incentive to move away from high carbon fossil fuels when the capital cost of renewable replacements is often higher than the counterfactual.
Much like we have seen in Sweden, I propose that we assist our British households with the energy transition and that the government addresses these upfront costs. Rather than a subsidy provided over a long period of time, should we not be providing upfront subsidies to eligible consumers towards the purchase of heat pumps in line with our 2050 targets? Not only will this reduce emissions and coincide with the Clean Growth Strategy, but it will encourage our ‘able to pay’ households to invest in the technology later down the line.