Now is the time to design regulations to decarbonise how we heat our homes, says Samantha Crichton. Help us work out the best way forward
“As everyone knows, it is imperative that carbon emissions must be dramatically reduced. And it is clear that a big part in this must be played by those building and managing the nation’s homes.” This quote comes from Lord Best, president of the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA), and couldn’t be closer to the truth.
With the government committing to phase out high-carbon fossil fuels in the 2020s and the setting of a net zero target in 2050, this next decade will require substantial changes in the way we build, manage and heat our homes.
To tackle this tricky and complex issue, a new paper from the SEA proposes a regulatory framework to support the transition from high-carbon fossil fuels to less polluting heat sources. The UK government is due to publish its decarbonisation of heat strategy or roadmap later this year, and as such the paper comes at a crucial time as the civil servants consider their options.
The SEA has not only set out its proposals but is seeking views from housing providers, industry and public sector organisations on the recommendations before presenting them to government.
“All heating system installations must be ‘low-carbon’ by 2035 such that the share of low-carbon heating in our homes rises from 4.5% today to 90% by 2050”
Before we go into detail about the framework itself, it is important to understand the role of regulation and what the social housing sector can do. Analysis carried out by the SEA out shows that, given current trends, emissions from the social housing sector will continue to fall modestly up to 2050 but will not fall anywhere near substantially enough to meet the original 80% carbon reduction target, let alone the newly adopted target of net zero.
To even get close to reaching this target, policies to significantly improve energy efficiency and promote low-carbon heating technology deployment need to be implemented urgently.
Only a combination of deep retrofitting of existing social housing, raising the standards of all new builds and encouraging rapid market growth of low-carbon heating systems, such as heat pumps, can be successful in achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
To reach further emission reductions in line with the net zero scenario, this combination of changes will need to be extended by implementing far higher standards for new builds and creating an even faster uptake of low-carbon heating. All heating system installations must be ‘low-carbon’ by 2035, such that the share of low-carbon heating in our homes rises from 4.5% today to 90% by 2050.
The aim of the regulation proposed is to guarantee that heating is on the trajectory needed to reach net zero by 2050 and to reduce carbon emissions substantially enough to avert the worst of the climate crisis. It is designed with the off-grid commitment to phase out fossil fuels in mind with the option of extension to ensure the delivery of low-carbon heat to homes on the gas grid beyond 2030.
A carbon intensity regulation would set a limit to the permitted emissions per kWh of heating provided. This takes into account both the carbon intensity of the fuel as well as the efficiency of the heating technology. The carbon intensity standard is calculated by identifying the carbon intensity of the fuel – a value of kgCO2e/kWh – and the efficiency of the heating system is determined by considering both space and domestic hot water heating requirements.
The standard would apply on a rolling basis to heating systems at the point of replacement and as such would not be retrospectively applied to in-situ heating systems. The paper sets out how the regulation could impact the installation of different heating technologies including oil, biomass, heat pumps, electric heating and natural gas.
“The SEA is keen to hear from you, to understand your thoughts on the regulatory framework proposed and how it might impact your property improvement plans”
Regulation often works best when it is part of a holistic policy approach and so the SEA, in its Social Housing: Leading the Way to Net Zero paper, is also proposing the introduction of tighter efficiency standards in new builds, the legislation of the target for all homes to be Energy Performance Certificate band C by 2035 and the provision of funding to support the transition.
Great progress has been made in the social housing sector to date, however it is vital that this continues. It is social landlords who can and should take the lead in moving toward net zero carbon emissions from housing. As such the SEA is keen to hear from you, to understand your thoughts on the regulatory framework proposed and how it might impact your property improvement plans.
To give feedback on the paper, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 February 2020.
Samantha Crichton, policy advisor, Sustainable Energy Association