UK Government urged to spend on energy-efficient homes

Greener cars and less reliance on coal, oil and gas are some of the ways the UK is decarbonising, but what role do our homes play in helping us achieve carbon neutrality?

There’s no place like home but is yours adequately insulated? If not, you could be wasting significant amounts of energy. While energy prices in the UK are often cheaper than in other European countries, poorly-insulated homes mean our heating bills are some of the highest.

The Green Building Council estimated that 80 per cent of the homes that will be used in 2050 have already been built. If these homes are simply not up to scratch, achieving carbon neutrality might prove tricky.

That’s why representatives from over 200 businesses are calling on the UK Government to boost investment in energy-efficient homes, to the tune of £65 billion.

Government urged to ramp up spending

These representatives formed a group last year, titled the Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings (CEEB). The CEEB includes representation from firms including SSE, Centrica and Worcester Bosch, and just released a report, “Financing Zero-Carbon Heat: Turning Up the Dial on Investment”, which serves as an effective call to action.

In the run-up to COP26, the UK has an opportunity to show global leadership and deliver a green economic recovery with rapid, coordinated action on zero-carbon heating.

– Coalition for the Energy Efficiency of Buildings

In its new repot, the CEEB has identified key log jams which are preventing the scaling up of further investment in low-carbon heating across the UK, especially in the home, which is estimated to be responsible for two thirds of annual emissions for what is termed the ‘built environment.’

By proving £65 billion in fresh investment, the UK Government could help get all UK homes over the line and ensure that they all acquire an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of at least C or higher. As previously mentioned, most of the housing stock we can expect to be using by 2050 already exists, raising the stakes for policymakers to allow existing homes to be sufficiently upgraded, to meet the 2050 zero-net carbon target.

The report states: “In the run-up to COP26, the UK has an opportunity to show global leadership and deliver a green economic recovery with rapid, coordinated action on zero-carbon heating.”

Report calls for proactive approach

The CEEB’s report warned the UK Government to take responsibility and avoid wasting time, waiting for a silver bullet, such as blue hydrogen, to magically resolve its problems. Rather than resting on its laurels, the government was advised to be proactive, to find a suitable Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI).

Private enterprise has a part to play in ensuring homes become greener, through offering more green mortgages and products for retrofitting existing homes – innovations which could only benefit from additional support from central government over time.

Making sure homes are properly insulated is actually one of the key policy gaps, which could potentially risk derailing the UK’s ambition to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, unless action is taken in the here and now. In total the CEEB estimated that the UK will need to refurbish as many as 25 million homes, to make sure they reach the highest insulation standards over the next thirty years.

That means turning over 1.4 newly-insulated homes per minute from now until the middle of the century.

Ways to help make homes greener

The best thing we can all do to make our homes more energy efficient is to modify the way we currently heat them. For example, energy company Ovo claims that, while most of us would prefer to occupy a home heated to a temperature of about 20 degrees celsius, average room temperatures are typically closer to 18 degrees.

By keeping our homes closer to this 18-degree level for longer, that means using less energy and cutting heating bills in one fell swoop.

Simple things like upgrading your boiler could make a big difference, not just to your heating bills. A new boiler could significantly reduce heating loss in your home. The Energy Savings Trust touts the benefits of getting an upgraded boiler, as modern units are condenser boilers – this means they have larger heat exchangers, allowing them to retain more heat.

Cooler gas is sent up the flue in a modern boiler, and sometimes this gas can get so cool that it just condenses back into water vapour, allowing more energy to be recovered.

Government schemes already starting

In September 2020, the government unveiled a Green Homes Grant, which is now available to homeowners, claiming to facilitate significant savings on energy bills. In addition, the government is spending £3 billion to upgrade buildings as part of an intended green recovery from the COVID-19 recession. They also estimate that green construction will help support 100,000 jobs.

As an added bonus, the government is making £50 million available for social housing, through a Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF). This fund will allow for 2,000 of the UK’s worst performing social homes (based on energy efficiency) to be upgraded, saving occupants of these properties between £200 to £500 per year on energy bills.

One of the key concerns surrounding housing in the UK is related to population growth. At present, the UK is estimated to be home to over 67 million people. By 2050, the Office for National Statistics estimates that the population will to grow to 73 million people, and potentially 80 million by the start of the next century.

Higher life expectancy, births outnumbering deaths and a positive flow of net migration mean the UK will face greater pressure on delivering adequate amounts of housing to satisfy the demand of the rising population, while delivering a low-carbon footprint.

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