The publication of the government’s Future Buildings Standard consultation, together with the 10-point plan announced towards the end of 2020, are significant steps forward in the drive to achieve a zero-carbon economy by 2050. Both create huge opportunities and challenges, writes Alan Wilson
There is no doubt that the government’s latest announcements on green energy will help to accelerate the significant growth we are already seeing in the development of low-carbon technologies for homes.
The publication of the Future Buildings Standard consultation this month means that – in addition to the already challenging target of gas boilers being banned in new homes from 2025 – existing homes will now also be subject to much higher energy-efficient standards.
Requirements will include replacement, repairs and parts to be more energy efficient, as well as the replacement of windows and installing other technologies such as heat pumps and cooling systems.
This builds on the announcement at the end of the last year of the 10-point plan, which will impact directly on the housing sector with aims to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028, the introduction of hydrogen into the gas grid and the extension of the Green Homes Grant.
For landlords and property organisations, these developments create huge opportunities for innovation and growth and provide a level of assurance on the direction of travel.
But they also bring significant challenges for the supply chain to deliver the technologies and the infrastructure needed to ensure it plays its full part in the green industrial revolution.
Ensuring the sector develops people with the right skills to install and maintain these new technologies will be fundamental to achieving the shift to zero carbon.
There is currently a real shortage of engineers that are adequately trained to install technologies such as ground and air-source heat pumps. If we are to meet targets to rapidly increase the scale at which heat pumps are installed, this skills gap needs to be urgently addressed.
We’re working with local authorities and landlords to create ‘centres of excellence for decarbonisation’ in partnership with local colleges and training providers. This is a model which has been successfully used before by the automotive industry in the North East – creating a cluster of advanced businesses working together to build skills and expertise.
The centres of excellence will not only start to build the skilled workforce that is needed, but will also ensure that local areas can benefit economically from the investments being made as part of the so-called ‘green industrial revolution’ through the creation of local high-value jobs.
While plans announced to mix hydrogen into the gas grid to reduce CO2 emissions in homes appears to be a radical step forward, we believe it is not necessarily the answer longer term and requires huge investment in green hydrogen production facilities if the hydrogen is to be truly zero carbon.
Hydrogen can only be added at low quantities without domestic boilers needing upgrades, while many would need to be replaced altogether – leading to the question of whether this really is a sustainable solution that the country can deliver on.
Similarly, the measures outlined to run a whole town on hydrogen by 2030 faces the same difficulties. It will be important to explore whether other low-carbon technologies, such as heat pumps, could provide the answer because they are easier to switch to and don’t need the associated upgrades to the gas grid and green hydrogen production infrastructure.
“If we are to meet targets to rapidly increase the scale at which heat pumps are installed, this skills gap needs to be urgently addressed”
There is currently little commitment to ensuring that learning takes place during the roll-out of the plans proposed. Delivering these technologies to the timescales set out in the plan means that the role of research and data into which are best suited to different property types and which will achieve the best low-carbon results will be vital.
This is a key aim of the Net Zero Collective in bringing together a wide range of social housing and local authority partners together with research institutions, data experts and energy experts to analyse, trial and test different technologies and produce an evidence-based system to inform investment decisions around decarbonisation. This will mean property owners can be confident that they’re investing in the right-first-time solutions for their assets.
These ambitious targets will only be achieved by the sector working together, sharing ideas, best practice and solutions and grasping all opportunities to play its full part in delivering a zero-carbon future.
Alan Wilson, business development director, Net Zero Collective
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