A “serious failure” – how on earth do we decarbonise UK homes?

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Remarkable DevRemarkable Dev


One of the biggest challenges facing the UK’s race to net zero is the decarbonisation of existing housing stock.

In a report pulished in January, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) called for retrofitting energy inefficient homes to be a national priority. With over 13 million homes – more than 50% of English housing stock – having an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of Band D or worse, there’s a lot of retrofitting to be done.

The rollout of heat pumps is a core element of the Government’s current decarbonisation plan, however, there are numerous short-to-medium term issues with this. There’s currently a significant shortfall in the number of trained heat pump installers, which has a silver lining in that our national energy infrastructure isn’t ready for the electrification of heat – which of course is an issue in itself. Furthermore, the real potential of heat pumps can only be realised if a home is properly insulated – and it’s estimated that around 65% of British homes are not.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be pursuing heat pump installations, but it highlights that they won’t be a silver bullet. What it does emphasise is the need for an extensive, robust, and speedy retrofitting initiative to help ease demand on the grid while its capacity is improved.

Likewise, simply improving homes’ insulation won’t be enough. The University of Cambridge recently published research finding that insulation only provides a short-term reduction in household energy consumption. The resulting energy usage rising year-on-year after insulation has been installed leads to negligible savings – potentially because not enough has been done to help people understand how to be more efficient.

A sustained consumer behaviour change campaign must be central to improving energy efficiency in the short-to-medium term. One of the key challenges to achieve this? People generally aren’t aware of their energy consumption, what retrofitting options there are for them, and what help is available for them.

For example, less than a third of available vouchers under the UK Government’s ‘Boiler Upgrade Scheme’ have been claimed in its first 9 months, and the House of Lords Climate Change Committee recently brandished the scheme a “serious failure”.

This is the latest in a short line of unsuccessful Government schemes to try and retrofit the nation’s housing stock where poor communication has been a factor. In response to the Lords’ inquiry, the Government said they recently launched a marketing campaign to increase public awareness – a recognition that communications campaigns play a crucial role in retrofitting our housing stock on our journey to net zero.

Hopefully this is a sign of what is to come from Government under the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero which will oversee improving housing energy efficiency.

A holistic, whole-house approach to retrofitting will be required to deliver our net zero ambitions. Insulation and heat pumps each have crucial roles to play but work best together rather than exclusively. Other solutions like airtight windows and solar PV are equally important – nearly 15% of Britain’s homes still aren’t fully double-glazed.

Similarly, robust and sustained communications campaigns to raise consumer awareness about energy consumption, how it can be reduced through technology and how to get hold of them, and how it can be reduced through behaviour change is equally important.

Cavendish Advocacy will be at both Futurebuild 2023 and Retrofit Challenge Summit 2023 to hear about the latest innovations, practices, and thoughts in the sector. If you want to chat about how we can help you communicate your company’s strategic objectives and raise your profile, please contact Sam Freedman, David Button, or Matthew Morrison.


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