Low carbon homes will play a key role in reaching net-zero
The panel discussed how those in fuel poverty are often living in rural areas and off-grid homes. With these homes, there are fewer heating technologies that are available and fewer low-cost energy efficiency measures | Credit: PA Images
Speaking at OFTEC’s panel discussion at Labour Connected, Shadow Minister for Green New Deal and Energy, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, stressed the important role that decarbonising our homes will play in reaching net-zero.
“We've got to start seeing our housing stock in a different way,” said Dr Alan Whitehead MP, speaking at OFTEC’s event at Labour Connected earlier this week.
“Specifically, in how it [the housing stock] relates to low carbon energy for the future, and how it relates to achieving net-zero within the in fastest time possible,” he continued.
The event, titled: Securing a fair, affordable low carbon future for UK homes, examined which heating technologies and policies offer a realistic, cost effective path to net-zero, without exacerbating existing social challenges.
The Shadow Minister for Green New Deal and Energy warned: “We've got to get everything right as far as our housing is concerned, because of the climate imperative that's ahead of us.”
The event was organised by OFTEC, a trade association for the liquid fuel sector, serving around about a million and a half homes, mainly in rural locations in the UK.
Malcolm Farrow, Head of Communications at OFTEC agreed with Dr Whitehead: “We know that decarbonisation is an absolutely vital job, and so is energy efficiency in UK homes.”
“We've only got 30 years left to get to net-zero, so we really can't afford to waste any further time,” he continued.
Alex Goodwin, Energy Consultant at Dods Group, explained that there were four key areas in creating low carbon homes in a fair way: low incomes, energy prices, energy efficiency of homes and decarbonisation.
“UK homes emit a substantial amount of emissions -14% of the UK total emissions, which is very considerable,” she explained.
To achieve the net-zero targets, she called for a “whole government approach”.
“I think part of the reason this issue has been somewhat neglected, is because we don't quite know yet who's going to foot the bill for it,” she said.
Why have schemes like the Green Deal and RHI failed to decarbonise homes in an affordable way?
The panel were overtly critical of the Green Deal and other schemes which had tried to tackle the issue.
Mr Farrow explained how the design of such initiatives meant they were often costly for taxpayers and made it difficult for smaller installer businesses to get involved.
"You have actually got to treat housing as a sort of massive infrastructure issue, which you would expect a large amount of public investment to go into to get right”
“As a consequence, work is often contracted out to larger players on a ‘piece rate’ and quality outcomes suffer at the expense of quantities of jobs completed’, he said.
Peter Smith, Director of Policy and Research, National Energy Action (NEA) agreed, saying the Green Deal “signalled the end” of grant funding for fuel poverty initiatives that introduced comprehensive measures for both on and off-grid properties.
Dr Whitehead said that the issue of decarbonising homes was fundamentally a “public taxation issue.”
“You have actually got to treat housing as a sort of massive infrastructure issue, which you would expect a large amount of public investment to go into to get right,” he explained.
Alongside the benefits to the environment of decarbonising our homes, the shadow minister highlighted how fuel poverty and poorly insulated homes are often intertwined.
He believed we should challenge the view that people should pay for the energy efficiency in their own homes.
“Fuel poverty is very much concentrated in the less insulated homes,” he explained, believing the issue would be “substantially combated” as a result of large schemes.
Peter Smith agreed: “If you make it difficult for people to take up energy efficiency measures, and the cost of access is expensive, people aren't going to be able to do it.”
“The only way you can really tackle this is to find ways of bringing down costs,” he continued.
Alex Goodwin agreed with Smith, noting that upfront costs for renewable heating systems ranged from £4,000- £18,000.
The panel discussed how those in fuel poverty are often living in rural areas and off-grid homes.
With these homes, Mr Smith said that there's fewer heating technologies that are available to these homeowners, and with that fewer low-cost energy efficiency measures.
“As a result, those households often miss out on government led programmes that are there to support them and reduce energy costs,” he explained.
Alex Goodwin said: “There needs to be a better way to tackle those in off-grid homes living in fuel poverty.”
“They desperately need help, particularly in terms of insulation, it really needs to be targeted to them,” said Mr Farrow.
He described how rural homes are extremely diverse, and therefore there is not a homogeneous solution that can solve the issue.
“It really is more to do with the fabric of those buildings and the fact that they are very, very poorly insulated,” he said.
On the potential for electric heating in rural homes, Mr Farrow warned about the impact this would have on the electric grid.
“A million off grid homes aren't going to be suitable to be upgraded cost effectively, because the grid is going to be too expensive to do,” he explained.
“If you live in a home that's already well insulated, I think it would be good to put a heat pump in. But for older properties, I think other solutions are going to be better,” he concluded.