The Green Homes Grant can help alongside ECO to drive the country towards net-zero
EDF’s Managing Director of Customers, Philippe Commaret, explains why the Green Homes Grant can complement existing measures to upgrade homes and help drive the country towards net-zero.
The Government’s new Green Homes Grant scheme, set to launch this month, is aimed at creating jobs and benefitting the economy as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, it will also provide much needed support for a wider push to reduce the carbon emissions of our homes that works alongside the existing Energy Company Obligation (ECO).
Over the past 7 years, the ECO scheme has made great strides in tackling household emissions and reducing the energy bills of those most in need.
EDF is a well-established market leader in ECO – in the last year alone, we installed more than 45,000 energy efficiency solutions into UK homes.
Since 2018, the energy efficiency measures we have installed have delivered £660 million in lifetime bill savings for our customers which saves 199,732 tonnes of carbon entering our atmosphere each year.
Clearly, the scheme remains critically important in helping to reduce energy bills and fuel poverty for those who are eligible, whilst also reducing household emissions.
However, the reason the Green Homes Grant is so welcome is that it is open to homeowners beyond those targeted by ECO, encouraging those who can afford it to take their own steps towards reducing carbon emissions.
This is a vital change in policy which is required if we are to achieve our ambition to be net zero by 2050.
The scale of decarbonising heat is daunting but it can be achieved with the right measures. Housing still makes up a large proportion of the UK’s carbon emissions – around 14%.
In 2019, the Committee for Climate Change said these need to fall back 24% from their 1990 levels by 2030; in 2017, instead of falling, they rose 1%.
Therefore, in order to meet our targets, more needs to be done to make sure emissions are reduced in all 29 million households in the UK, not just those targeted by ECO. New insulation will continue to play an important role in retrofitting all homes to make them more energy efficient, reducing emissions and bills for customers.
The other welcome change in the Green Homes Grant is the inclusion of electric heat pumps as a proven, low carbon alternative to fossil fuel boilers.
With electricity in the UK becoming more and more carbon efficient through increasing renewable and nuclear generation, heat pumps are a lower carbon alternative to gas.
Electric heating solutions, like heat pumps, also have added benefits: they can help store excess energy for future use, they can link to smart thermostats to modulate consumption, and electricity time-of-use tariffs encourage customers to use their devices when there is more renewable energy available, making them even greener.
Although we support the Government’s plans to ban gas boilers in new build homes by 2025, the majority of UK homes still rely on them.
According to a recent report, at current rates of switching away from gas boilers, it would take 200 years for the remaining fossil fuel boilers across Europe to be replaced by lower carbon alternatives.
Also, given that most customers will only consider switching away from a gas boiler at the end of its life cycle (on average 15 years), we are only two boiler cycles away from our net zero target of 2050. We must act now to encourage customers to switch in order to reach our net zero targets.
One of the difficulties is that customers remain cautious about shifting completely away from traditional, familiar methods of heating.
Although it is pleasing to see heat pumps included in the Green Homes Grant, we would have also liked to see the inclusion of hybrid heat pumps which run alongside existing gas boilers.
For a consumer looking to do their part for the environment but who is also fearful of costs or considerable work to their home, a hybrid heat pump offers a much more attractive alternative.
Finally, if we are truly committed to addressing the carbon intensity of how we heat homes, we hope that the Government will seek to find the right balance of policy costs between electricity and fossil fuels such as gas.
Today, around 23% (22.92%) of a customer’s electricity bill covers levies that are designed to accelerate and support our shift to net zero, whilst gas bills bear just 2% (1.86%) of the cost. If we are to encourage greater take-up of lower carbon electric technologies, now is the time for these levies to be appropriately distributed across the two fuels.