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Future homes and the path to net-zero

Future homes and the path to net-zero

Future homes and the path to net-zero

Posted: 23/07/2021

The issue of delivering net-zero homes is complex but navigable.

It was way back in 2019 that the government announced its Future Homes Standard, an ambitious piece of legislation that looks to make all new build homes carbon net-zero by 2025. This amounts to new builds being 75-80% more carbon efficient than current standards.

With homes making up 20% of the UK’s carbon output, successful implementation of the legislation will make a serious contribution to the UK’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris climate agreement. It’s also a special year for the UK. The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) is set for Glasgow in November and many eyes will be on the country in its push for net-zero.

However, it’s now 2021 and we’re 18 months closer to the 2025 deadline. A reasonable question to ask is, how should we look to meet that target? In this article, we cast a lens over the plan, talk about the tools available to us and the leadership needed from the government to help developers reach the necessary targets.

2 routes to net zero?

The government has put forth two ways in which fuel and energy conservation could be improved.

  1. By building homes to a very high fabric standard, carbon emissions could be reduced by 20%. This would include actions such as triple glazing windows and installing suitable insulation to minimize heat loss from walls, floors and ceilings.
  2. Making use of low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps, heat networks, and electrical heating could result in a 31% carbon reduction for each household. This option also includes improving fabric standards (although not as extensively as option 1).

While a higher fabric standard is fairly easy and cheap to implement, it doesn’t bring the results required. The government has stated that new homes should be 31% more carbon-efficient by 2021, a target this measure would miss by 11%. Low carbon heating systems will need to do the heavy lifting.

Heat networks, Heat pumps and electric heaters

A lot of hope is being pinned on these heating sources to help make the Future Homes Standard a reality. Added urgency comes from the fact that new gas heating installations will be phased out by 2025, so getting the right technology in place is paramount.

  • Heat Networks – A heat network takes heat from a centralised power source and delivers it to a group of buildings. Akin to a mini power station that serves a street, community or even a city. The advantages of such networks are that they can be powered by recovered or renewable heat sources, some of which can’t be accessed at an individual household level. The heat sources that feed heat networks can be also augmented by new technologies with minimal disruption to individual households, meaning when a better technology becomes available, it can be easily implemented.
  • Heat Pumps – Heat pumps have the same low-carbon benefits as electric heating but are much more efficient. Although they require some electricity to run, they typically run at a 200-600% efficiency rate, so the amount of heat produced is markedly higher than the energy consumed. Good news for price conscious consumers. At a basic level, heat pumps extract heat from a source, normally the soil, the air, or wastewater, and transfer it to your home.
  • Electric heaters – Out of the three options on show, electric heating is anticipated to have the smallest role. Although there’ll be no emissions at the point of use, electric heaters run at -100% efficiency and are incredibly costly to run to the consumer. Their poor efficiency would put a large strain on the national grid if deployed en masse, meaning they aren’t a particularly attractive option. They’ll most likely be used in conjunction with a renewable source such as solar panels, reducing demand on the grid and lowering running costs.

A vacuum of leadership is harming the push for net-zero

As things stand, the UK government is leaving the details of how to achieve the goal very much in the hands of developers – perhaps because of the complexity of the project and the fact that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

However, there’s much more the government could be doing to help developers reach the goal of a 75% reduction in carbon emissions. Heat pumps are expected to play a large role, yet there is a shortage of expertise in the workforce when it comes to their installation and maintenance. In the 2021 budget, the government announced a ream of cash injections into apprenticeships. Cash injections for apprenticeships in green power infrastructure would vastly improve the rate at which heat pump technology could be scaled to meet demand.

Developers have a lot of unanswered questions. The government talks frequently about what they ‘anticipate’ will help them reach the target, but there’s very little being done to break down the barriers to reaching that target. A better roadmap is required, one that doesn’t put everything in the developers’ court and one that offers guidance, proper resources and an achievable route forwards.

Innovation  needed

With the increasing decarbonisation of our electricity supply, heat pumps, heat networks and to a lesser degree, electric heaters offer tangible options that will help deliver carbon net-zero new builds by 2025. Presently, these options can offer a 31% reduction in carbon emissions. It’s anticipated that this will rise to 75-80% as the UK works towards decarbonising its electricity supply. But this isn’t an excuse to rest on our laurels.

Heat pumps have been in use for ten years. Likewise, heat networks have been in use in some form since the 19th century. The point is, these are not new ideas. If we’re going to succeed, innovation, investment and leadership are all vital.

In your looking for advice on your project, our team can help you make the best choice for your build. Get in touch with us today to arrange a consultation.