COP26 – Guest blog from Energy Saving Trust
Energy Saving Trust is an independent organisation dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, low carbon transport and sustainable energy use to address the climate emergency.
As a member of the Sustainable Energy Association, what commitments would you like to see from the UK Government ahead of the summit?
- A comprehensive Heat and Buildings Strategy
Homes account for 21% of emissions, and heating is the largest part of this. Decarbonising domestic heating is a major part of reaching net zero. We need to take action now to make sure we can meet the 2050 target.
A comprehensive Heat and Buildings Strategy is needed to meet the pace and scale of the transition ahead. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommends bringing up two-thirds of our housing stock to EPC C by 2035 and installing 1 million heat pumps a year by 2030 to get this done.
Overall, 80% of the homes that will exist in 2050 have already been built. Energy efficiency makes homes warmer and more cost-effective to heat. We need to reduce the amount of energy we need to heat our homes and reduce costs for all. We know that if there is confidence and certainty in the market and supply chain, that industry will be able to scale up investment and increase the pace significantly.
The government must consider and address how it will support consumers who are fuel poor, or people who cannot afford the upfront costs of energy efficiency or low carbon heating systems. Where these policies will impact negatively on people, it is vital that there are incentives and support mechanisms in place to mitigate the impacts while people transition to low carbon heating.
- A fair transition
Net zero homes will require both a radical change of thought for all of us, as well as a change in the way we use energy in our homes, while most of us will need to invest in new, unfamiliar technologies. To deliver net zero in an affordable and fair way, we need sustained public support.
We called on the UK Government to introduce a Fair Heat Deal to make clean heating affordable for all. This would make the phase out of gas boilers attractive for everyone, by providing free heat pumps and insulation to fuel poor households, as well as bringing the cost of heat pumps in line with boilers for those who can afford it.
A Fair Heat Deal would also ensure that the cost of running a heat pump is lower than running a gas boiler. This would help households in the UK benefit from cheaper energy bills and warmer homes, at the same time as drastically cutting carbon emissions from buildings.
Energy bill levies disproportionately impact low-income households, which spend a higher proportion of their income on energy. The government must remove existing policy costs from bill levies and ensure no new energy bill levies are added.
- A regulatory framework for clear signposting
Regulation acts as a clear signal for investors, including homeowners, on how to act, reducing the risk of homeowners or others investing in assets that may have a limited lifetime. While we strongly support regulation, it needs to be used in tandem with a strong package of support for homeowners, including finance, lower running costs, advice, and consumer protection.
We would like to see:
- Minimum energy performance standards at sale / rent for all householders and tenants.
- Dates by when all new / replacement heating should be low carbon for new homes, for homes not connected to the gas grid, and for homes connected to the gas grid.
- Attractive consumer offer for low carbon heating
While a good step, the government target of increasing the number of heat pumps installed each year to 600,000 by 2028 is not enough to get UK on track with the CCC’s most cost-effective pathway for net zero.
We would like to see the government increase the target in line with the CCC’s advice to 1 million per year by 2030. The UK Government can support the supply chain by requiring low carbon heating in new builds from the earlier date of 2023 and encourage early uptake in the social housing sector.
To meet the pace and scale needed, heat pumps need to be an attractive consumer proposition. The government needs to ensure consumers can access attractive finance, grants and loans that help them retrofit their homes and adopt low carbon heat, and take action to ensure that running costs are lower than fossil fuel heating.
A bespoke solution will vary from home to home, so householders will need access to a free impartial, advice service that can provide and support them with specific advice about their particular situation.
- An ambitious and fair plan to decarbonise transport
Transport is the single biggest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions in the UK. While Covid-19 lockdowns resulted in reduced travel, emission levels are returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the number and range of electric vehicles on the UK’s roads continues to increase, overall emissions from transport do not show signs of falling without stringent measures from government to steer a new course. The Department for Transport’s Decarbonisation Plan delivers this.
The transition to low carbon transport must be fair, allowing everyone to enjoy the benefits of travelling sustainably. This transition will need to include the electrification of transport, more active travel, consolidation of freight, shared mobility and new technologies.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for reducing carbon in the built environment and how could this challenge be overcome?
With 85% of UK homes currently on the gas network, reducing the carbon intensity of heating will be a significant challenge, requiring sustained investment and strong leadership from government.
Scaling up and increasing the pace of installation in the heat pump sector is vital for achieving net zero. There are more than four million homes in England now using oil, coal, LPG and less efficient electric heating that would benefit from being retrofitted with low carbon heat pumps as a first priority.
The UK Government must set out a clear pathway to transitioning to low carbon heating in the nation’s homes. For many homeowners, the expense of a heat pump is significant; better incentives to install the technology, such as grants to help with the upfront expense or low-cost financing, will be essential. A concerted effort to bring costs down and educate homeowners on the potential cost and carbon savings will also help scale up the market.
What is your organisation doing either in preparation for the summit and to tackle climate change more generally?
Our work focuses on reaching net zero targets by taking action to reduce our energy consumption, installing new infrastructure and accelerating a move to sustainable, low carbon lifestyles.
We empower householders to make better choices, deliver transformative programmes for governments and support businesses and community groups with strategy, research and assurance – enabling everyone to play their part in building a sustainable future.
At Energy Saving Trust, we are now working on the assumption that we have around five years before it will be too late to decisively change the trajectory of carbon emissions and keep the rise in global temperatures well below the 2°C Paris Agreement target, with all the consequences missing this target would bring.
The pandemic has shown we can make huge changes when we have to. The next few months offer the opportunity for a green recovery from Covid-19, in which the UK and the rest of the world commit and invest to decisively move national and global economies onto a pathway to net zero carbon emissions.