Closing the net zero advisory gap
Energy consumption by consumers accounts for 40% of the UK's emissions. People need to know how they can bring that down.
Domestic energy management is critical to the UK achieving net zero by 2050. With 27 million dwellings, domestic energy accounts for 40% of all UK emissions. One third of that (equivalent to 14% of the UK total) arises from domestic heating alone.
Changes to planning standards and building regulations to force all new builds to meet net zero standards will not be enough. While new builds account for the initial rapid take-up of heat pumps, retrofitting the legacy housing stock will cost around £200bn over the next 30 years (source: Institute of Government). These are huge numbers that will require major planned work and significant homeowner engagement to make complex decisions about heating options and behavioural change.
We need to view this heating retrofit programme against additional funds within the whole energy provider system. Looking at the raft of profit announcements of the energy providers1, and the public cost of the failure of Bulb Energy (put at £2.2bn over the period 2021-2023 by the Office of Budget Responsibility), there is clear potential to fund some practical solutions.
The Green Edge has been looking at the coverage of the transition of domestic dwellings to net zero. There almost seems to be a bit of groupthink going on - that there is only one solution, and it is air source heat pumps. But in reality, the picture is more complex. There are multiple options, and heating can be decoupled from hot water generation and delivery. Going net zero is much more than just about energy - it’s about the overall sustainability of a dwelling.
Considering the options
The UK Green Building Council has had a net zero roadmap going back to 2013, before the Paris Agreement. The most recent version from November 2021 indicates a significant level of uptake of renewable energy options by a large number of homeowners.
Source: UK Green Building Council, November 2021.
Regarding skills for transitioning domestic dwellings to net zero, the literature tends to focus on installation, operation and maintenance2. These skills and occupational projections are largely based on specific technologies, in particular heat pumps.
But what is often left out of the roadmaps are consumer views and behaviours. Here we find mixed messages. An Ofgem consumer survey in 2021 concludes that 56% of consumers think they have already done enough to tackle the effects of climate change. Yet, a recent review by BEIS tells us the number of people concerned about climate change has risen over the same time period. Perhaps not a contradiction, but certainly a clear case for a properly planned and structured long-term communication and engagement programme.
A wide range of approaches are needed to move consumers and homeowners forward, including monetary and non-monetary gains. We also note here the recent public consultation on future building standards.
We also see a complex range of options for different types of property. Physical internal space, location - for example, proximities to potential hydrogen hubs - and housing densities with potential for heat networks, all come into play. Options could be phased and linked to ability to fund. Local funding options may lie alongside grants from Central Government. We should also remember that the cost calculations for retrofitting homes tend to cover only the cost of the heating technology, often ignoring the total cost of installation with any additional refurbishment required.
Getting the lowdown
So, to whom does the domestic consumer turn? Certainly, there are plenty of websites and leaflets, and some excellent toolkits and handbooks. There is also a comprehensive checklist by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), but many people will find this a challenge to understand and will require professional support to interpret and translate into a practical workplan.
And who is best equipped to provide the advice? Surveyors, Energy Engineers, Energy Technicians? Could we see HVAC Technicians (and some plumbers) using their knowledge of domestic energy systems and space heating requirements to develop workable, practical plans? What role could Energy Assessors play? We also have the Energy Savings Trust, Citizen Advice, and others. Even the Institute for Apprenticeshipes and Technical Education (IfATE), with its occupational map for construction showing the development of net zero capability across many of its standards.
What is the role for local authorities? Generally, on their websites you’ll find the Environment sections will drop you into Building Control, and then into technical advice and guidance. Here, you’ll generally find links to other energy advisory bodies. Perhaps something like this Net Zero Carbon Toolkit, commissioned in 2021 by West Oxfordshire, Cotswold and Forest of Dean District Councils, and funded by the Local Government Association (LGA) Housing Advisers Programme, should become the default document for all local authorities? Even better, link to a standardised online toolkit with a managed dataset to enable comparisons and find indicative costs. A toolkit and dataset like this might be best placed under the jurisdiction of RICS or RIBA.
And finally, where can we go to see excellence in achieving net zero? Well, there are a number of celebrated demonstration sites: BedZED in Sutton; the Green Building in Manchester; the EcoHouse in Leicester; the South Yorkshire Energy Centre in Sheffield; together with corporate showcases like the Siemens Urban Sustainability Centre at Victoria Dock in London and the Rehau Hub in the Building Centre, also in London.
Should there be more? Seeing what is possible always helps understanding. Perhaps there will be a green version of the Open House Festival at some time in the not-too-distant future.
We can think of a few, including:
An advisory and planning service funded by the major energy companies to drive domestic house transition to net zero;
Increasing the number of demonstration sites to drive public engagement, understanding, and interest;
Possibly even a series of pop-up Eco-shops on the high street;
Exhibitions and events;
Upskilling and reskilling installers, providing a great opportunity for local, small firms who can show they operate to a standard and can clearly demonstrate their competence and reliability to ensure trust with consumers.
Just one thing before you go. The Green Edge is looking for sponsors. Your sponsorship may be linked to a specific piece of content, a steer you would like to give us, or simply in recognition that we are adding value to the green skills narrative. It could be at any level, perhaps as a one-off contribution or maybe in more regular instalments. Most likely, we anticipate your sponsorship would be on behalf of your organisation. At whatever level, your support will be valued by us and will help us greatly with our plans for developing The Green Edge. Thank you.
The major UK energy providers generated £4.7bn in profits in the last quarter of 2021, and over the last year, £14.2bn against £3.57bn for the previous year.