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Low carbon homes – a brighter future ahead?

 

Like an endless tale, I find myself repeating the importance of heating efficiency in our buildings yet again. But I’m not the only one, the Committee on Climate Change published their Homes report[1] last week and I was delighted to see that their recommendations aligned with the ones we put forward in our own policy paper[2]which we published in January.

I’ve spoken before about our leaky homes and dependency on fossil fuels, hopeful for a low-carbon future that takes advantage of proven technology that will decarbonise the supply of heat. Our homes are needlessly wasteful, making them expensive to heat with higher bills that encourage fuel poverty and ill health. Reducing this waste would not only lower the 17% of emissions that come from heating our homes, but it would also reduce energy bills significantly. Yet somewhere, and rather frustratingly so, the steps to ensure this happens are not being taken. Perhaps forgotten amid the chaos of Brexit, the Government are failing to focus on the need to boost the efficiency of our homes in the UK and emissions have risen for the second successive year[3]. Action is needed to improve our buildings so why are there no policies to ensure less heat is wasted?

Back in 2007, we were optimistic about the Zero Carbon Homes Policy. Catastrophically, however, the policy was watered down and then scrapped just months before its launch date, and the recently published Zero Carbon Homes Report[4] brings the impact of that cancellation to light once again.

The report finds that ‘had the policy not been cancelled, occupants of new homes built since 2016 would be saving more than £200 per year on their energy bills.’ Putting that into perspective, that amounts to three times the average saving intended to result from the energy price cap. Broadening that perspective further, that is an accumulative cost of over £120 million paid by homeowners since January 2016. Acknowledging such a waste is incredibly disheartening, especially when proven technology is readily available. If fitted with heat pumps, for example, owners and tenants across the country could have made the most of lower bills whilst reducing carbon emissions simultaneously. Installing a heat pump over a gas boiler in a new home could reduce emissions by more than 90% over its lifetime[5].

Such a wasted opportunity leaves a sour taste in the mouths of anyone who cares – and we all should - about the efficiency of our housing stock. But the impact of inaction will only become more prevalent as more and more homes are built over the next few years. Before we know it, those 700,000 new homes will be occupied by families spending more on their energy than they would have been. By 2020, we will have wasted 20 TWh of natural gas and spent just short of £1 billion on heating our homes.

However, there is some light – it’s not all doom and gloom. The Committee on Climate Change have recommended that by 2025 all new homes should have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation, be fitted with low carbon heat such as heat pumps and not be connected to the gas grid. I completely agree and have been saying for some time that new homes should be future-proofed, with heat pumps being the ideal low carbon solution, avoiding expensive retrofits down the line and reducing emissions as a direct result.

With some of the leakiest homes in Europe already, it is absurd that we are adding to the problem, building more and more inefficient homes across the country to standards far below what they ought to be. Considering the low-carbon technology is available and the Zero Carbon Policy could have well been implemented already, it is a hard pill to swallow but one that must be swallowed all the same. The Committee on Climate Change’s report provides a bit of a sweetener, offering hope that ambitious policy may be on the horizon. All that’s required now, is for the Government to adopt the recommendations and set the ball rolling towards a sustainable, low carbon housing stock.

 

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[1] https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/UK-housing-Fit-for-the-future-CCC-2019.pdf

[2] https://www.nibe.eu/en-gb/about-nibe/news/2019/2019-01-16-heating-our-homes---a-policy-pathway-to-developing-a-viable-heat-pump-market

[3] https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/CCC-2018-Progress-Report-to-Parliament.pdf

[4] https://eciu.net/reports/2019/zero-carbon-homes

[5] https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/UK-housing-Fit-for-the-future-CCC-2019.pdf

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