Opposition MPs and NGOs have said they had hoped to see much more ambitious financial commitments to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes in delayed government plan
MPs and environmental campaign groups have reacted to the publication of the government’s Heat and Building Strategy with concerns about the scope of commitments to improve the efficiency of buildings.
The strategy was released this week with a host of financial commitments to step up heat pump adoption, while also setting our broad commitments to review and rebalance energy prices over the next decade to improve the attractiveness of electric heating.
A host of consultations have also been launched the strategy to garner feedback on proposals such as banning new fossil fuel heating systems in off-grid properties from 2026.
At the same time, the government has opted against introducing a national ban on natural gas boilers, preferring at present to gradually encourage customers to move to lower carbon alternatives by around 2035.
While the additional funding has been welcomed, there have been criticisms in both political and environmental circles about shortcomings in the plan to transform the existing building stock to be more efficient.
Labour MP Ed Miliband, the Shadow Business and Energy Secretary, argued via social media that the government’s plan, after numerous delays, had failed to deliver sufficient funding to ensure households across the country can effectively embrace low carbon heat at scale.
1/The heat and buildings strategy has been delayed for months. For a country facing an energy price crisis, rising bills, and climate emergency, it wasn’t worth the wait. 🧵
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) October 19, 2021
Mr Miliband claimed the strategy’s pledge to provide £5,000 grants to 30,000 homes to encourage adoption of heat pumps fell far short of the government’s own aims to install 600,000 units each year from 2028.
He was also critical of pledges to support domestic insulation upgrades and other material improvements in homes in a bid to reduce overall domestic heat demand.
Mr Miliband said that 19 million UK homes presently fell below the EPC Band C rating. The opposition MP was also critical about the lack of focus on a direct replacement for the short-lived Grant Homes Grant scheme that was scrapped less than a year from its launch.
He said, “A proper warm homes plan would lower bills, reduce emissions, and create jobs. But this Government is ducking the crucial decisions and making households pay the costs. By failing to invest, millions of households are being left out in the cold.”
By comparison, he said that Labour would have introduced a plan for providing £6bn of annual investment up to 2030 for supporting low carbon heat installations and retrofit work. The planned spending would be led by local authorities to ensure widescale insulation and energy efficiency upgrades across the UK housing stock.
Parliament’s cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has described the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy as being a positive start in national efforts to move to cleaner heat. The £3.9bn scope of the strategy’s commitments for the next three years was seen as significant.
However, the committee warned that questions and concerns remained about meeting existing ambitions for 600,000 heat pumps to be fitted in homes annually from 2028.
Committee Chair MP Philip Dunne said that the announcements in the strategy focused only in supporting 90,000 installations over the next three years.
HE said, “This is a good start but is less than offered initially through the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution announced last year. As yet, there is little acknowledgment that effective use of heat pumps requires buildings to be properly insulated. Our committee’s evidence highlighted that insulation costs can double the current cost of a heat pump for many of the 19 million homes that are older and have an EPC rating of less than C.”
The committee said that the strategy’s focus on hydrogen meanwhile showed cautious, but encouraging steps with regards to understanding how the gas may or may not play an important role in the country’s energy mix and heat.
Mr Dunne said the committee welcomed the government’s plan to wait on the results of a series of ongoing trials into the safety and technical case for the gas before deciding on how it may wish to start using hydrogen for functions such as domestic heat.
Environmental NGO Friends of the Earth said it considered the overall plans detailed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy to be quite modest in ambition despite some of the bigger headline pledges.
Mike Childs, head of science with the NGO, said that the commitments failed to address important questions about how to support low-income households to install more efficient heating systems.
He said, “£450 million pounds delivered via individual £5000 grants means 90,000 heat pump installations over three years. That just isn’t very much, and won’t meet the prime minister’s ambition of 600,000 a year by 2028. Investment will drive down the cost of heat pumps, and technical innovation plus skills training is a part of this, but so is scale. These grants will only incentivise the best-off households.”
Mr Childs was also critical about the likely impact of additional funding intended to aid with improving the efficiency of certain existing homes. He said that the provision of £950m to support the Home Upgrade Grant, which has been launched to improve the energy performance of the least efficient homes off the gas grid in England up to 2025 again fell short of the funds needed.
He said, “£950 million pounds over three years for the home upgrade scheme just won’t drive the scale of energy efficiency needed in both private and rented sectors. This is a start, it’s just not a very good one when the many benefits of a really generous scheme are abundantly clear: from warm, healthy homes to slashed emissions, with jobs to boot.”
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