The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has published an assessment of the UK government’s October 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy, concluding that it is moving the country towards net zero but contains serious gaps around funding and policy.
In the report, the CCC praises the government’s efforts to decarbonise buildings, in particular proposals to set deadlines for phasing out gas and oil boilers, new long-term policies for low carbon heat, and providing funding for heat networks, public buildings and the fuel poor.
However, the CCC also finds various issues in the plan. It criticises the government’s funding towards energy efficiency and low carbon heat improvements for public buildings and fuel poor homes as insufficient, particularly in the face of soaring wholesale gas prices. This is a major shortfall given that improving the energy efficiency of homes is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and energy bills, says the CCC.
Policy gaps are also identified as a weakness in the report. Policies to improve the energy efficiency of homes that are not fuel poor are described as inadequate and gaps around energy efficiency policies for small commercial buildings are highlighted. The CCC recommends stronger standards for these buildings which could be enforced at the point of sale or new tenancy to drive improvements in line with the natural turnover of properties.
The CCC commends the government’s approach to creating new markets for low carbon heat since this creates space for innovation, reduces the strain on the Treasury and provides more flexibility around what technologies are used to improve buildings.
However, the report also cautions that it is very difficult to cultivate new markets. Although the government is providing some limited capital funding to stimulate the markets and introducing tighter regulations to help create demand for low carbon heating, growing demand and supply simultaneously ‘requires an extraordinary level of policy coordination’ and is hampered by barriers such as the relative cost of electricity and gas and a deficiency in skilled installers.
The CCC estimates that capacity in the UK’s supply chains is far below the levels needed to install the number of heat pumps and heat networks needed. The government projects 600,000 heat pump installations each year by 2028, a huge jump from around 35,000 in 2021. But thousands more workers will be critical for installing these low-carbon heating systems and accompanying energy efficiency measures – and to design new electricity grids to meet future demand.
Decarbonising heat remains a huge task. The majority of the UK’s 28.5mn homes and 1.9mn other buildings are heated by gas boilers, with most of the rest using petroleum. They are the second-largest source of emissions in the UK after surface transport, constituting nearly one-fifth of the total. Changing how people heat buildings, increasing their energy efficiency and moving away from gas is vital for reaching net zero and would have the added benefit of lowering energy bills, says the CCC.
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