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UK’s Accelerated Climate Target Calls for Urgent Action to Decarbonise Homes

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Written by Phil Hurley, Managing Director of NIBE Energy Systems 

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Further strengthening the UK’s position as a leader in climate action, news broke this April that the Government will adopt the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and set in law a world-leading target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035. With good news travelling fast, many have already commended the shift in ambition in the hope that the Government will now follow up with the urgent policies and investment required to turn the ambition into a reality.

Provided the target is met, the Government’s decision to follow the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget will see the UK’s previous 80% emissions target brought forward by almost 15 years, propelling us closer towards a net zero economy. But it’s important to remember that we won’t cross the bridge until we get there.

With the UK currently not on track to meet its previous climate targets, the pressure is on the Government to gain ground when it comes to tackling the more difficult challenges. The decarbonisation of our homes and buildings is a case in point.

While the built environment is rarely the topic of focus in the climate debate, it answers for a third of total UK emissions. Drawing attention to this issue will be essential to revolutionising the way we heat our homes, 83% of which currently rely on fossil fuel-based gas boilers.

Suffice to say, awareness of low carbon alternatives will be key to encouraging households to move towards greener solutions that reduce carbon and operate more efficiently. However, educating the public is just one part of the puzzle.

The recently axed Green Homes Grant has already demonstrated the high level of demand for heat pump technology provided there is upfront support, yet the number of installers trained to install heat pumps pales in comparison to what UK climate targets require. With 1.7 million gas boilers still being installed in the UK every year, the cause of the skills gap isn’t hard to fathom. Targets are ambitious but the policy behind them is somewhat lacking today, meaning there is little certainty of where the market is heading and the speed of change. Encouraging heating installers to invest in retraining is essential so that they can deploy greener low carbon technologies but to do this they must first be provided with a reason to change.

The Government has already provided certainty to some degree through its commitment to phase out gas boilers in new homes from 2025 and to deploy 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. However, there remains no clear date for the full phase out of fossil fuel boilers and very few mechanisms in place to support the upskilling of heating installers who will need to lead the transition from the front. To address this, the Scottish Government is proposing to:

  • Move away from CHP in heat networks from 2023
  • Mandate that new buildings consented from 2024 use zero emissions heating (and cooling)
  • Phase out funding for fossil fuel heating systems by 2024
  • Develop a new regulatory framework to require installation of zero or very near zero emissions heating systems in existing buildings from 2025
  • Reduce significantly and eventually phase out our use of natural gas
  • Set a target that by 2030 at least 1 million domestic and non-domestic properties will have to have switched to zero emissions sources of heating away from high carbon heating such as gas
  • Introduce regulation across all tenures to ensure they achieve a good level of energy efficiency by 2035 and use zero emissions heating (and cooling) by 2045.

The recent step up in ambition to reduce carbon emissions only adds to the pressure on the UK Government to launch a comprehensive Heating and Buildings Strategy that reflects the scale of change we need to see in the years ahead. Not only is this essential to ensuring that the UK is on track to reduce its carbon emissions, but it is also vital to the success of schemes like the Clean Heat Grant which is due to come into force following the end of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

The vital importance of the Strategy was emphasised within the CCC’s Progress Report to Parliament last summer, which also highlighted gaps that must be pieced together following the historic policy deficit in relation to homes and buildings. Almost one year later, the delayed Strategy - now ever more important - remains to be seen.

The urgency of the Heat and Buildings Strategy, now expected over the next month, has also been stressed throughout a recent examination of the pathway to decarbonising heating in homes. Led by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, the inquiry saw committee members highlight the Strategy’s important role in providing a clear roadmap to help alleviate fuel poverty and support the setting of standards, regulations and a local plan to decarbonise heat in homes. A recent committee session this April also found the Government’s heat pump deployment to be necessary, ambitious and possible. Suffice to say, I wholeheartedly agree.

Heat pumps are available and ready to go, and the industry is working hard to ensure that the right training routes are in place for the future. With the right long-term policy frameworks in place to guide the way, there is no reason why the UK cannot revolutionise the way we heat our homes and buildings.


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