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A missed chance to kick-start the home heating revolution

A missed chance to kick-start the home heating revolution
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As the government commits to ‘build back better’ there is also an urgent need to ‘build and retrofit greener’ if the UK is going to meet its carbon emission targets. The current gas crisis has brought home the vulnerability of the nation in terms of future power and heating and we welcome the publication of the Heat and Buildings Strategy. 

The Heat and Buildings Strategy is offering £5,000 to households to install heat pumps, and pledging to invest £60m in heat pump innovation to reduce costs. This is a good start, but only goes part way to solve the problem. The majority of homes in the UK must be made more energy efficient before gas boilers are replaced, otherwise electricity costs faced by households will rocket. After several false starts, government must set out long-term policy to encourage home insulation. 

According to the Climate Change Committee, nearly 11m homes need to move from gas to renewable heat sources by 2035. The government has set a target of installing 600,000 heat pumps each year by 2028 – whilst the number installed is increasing, just 60,000 were installed last year in UK homes.  A major ramp-up of both retrofit and heat pump installation is needed, but we don’t have enough skilled builders and heat engineers to meet this challenge. 

People Powered Retrofit – a scheme by Carbon Co-op in Manchester has been ‘just getting on with it’  for a while – it provides a retrofit training programme for 1,000 building contractors to date and household energy assessments.

There are just 1,000 heat pump installers, compared to 96,000 gas engineers and only a small fraction of the UK’s builders are accredited to retrofit homes. Without a major skills boost, it would take centuries, not decades, to change the way we heat our homes.  

An ambitious retrofit programme could create hundreds of thousands of jobs for skilled tradespeople across the country – carpenters, plasterers and electricians. We will also need a workforce of 36,000 retrofit coordinators to ensure insulation work is carried out to rigorous quality standards and avoid Grenfell-style disasters. At present, we have just 2% of the number needed. 

With an ageing workforce in the building sector, the green skills transition offers the opportunity to encourage more women and people from Black, Asian and people from disadvantaged communities to seek careers in building a greener future.  

Harriet Lamb, CEO of Ashden, said: “We have recently witnessed the impact of  skills shortages on the haulage industry and the resulting fuel crisis. The installer skills gap is also a key blockage that we were expecting the  Heat and Buildings Strategy to clear. There is a massive gap between the UK’s current capacity  and the sheer volume of work  needed to retrofit homes, install heat pumps and achieve zero carbon by 2050.  

“Pioneering organisations are showing how communities, councils and social enterprises can meet the challenge but it needs also long-term government action to incentivise a large-scale, national, roll out to build and retrofit greener. 

“In the run up to COP the government can show true leadership. It’s good for the climate and good for decent jobs and skills, boosting the economy.” 

Ashden calls on the government to invest in the Further Education sector to train instructors, develop new courses and provide capital investment in new energy efficiency training facilities and low carbon skills development.  Without the right skills, there is a danger that the quality of installations is compromised risking future Grenfell-style disasters. 

Ashden welcomes the recent amendment of the Skills Bill to include climate education and its focus on the key role of employers. However, we urge that local authorities as well as business must be at the heart of local skills improvement plans – councils have a unique understanding of their communities and can ensure that local people from all backgrounds benefit from new green job opportunities. The government’s commitment to local skills improvement should be backed up with devolved funding. 

Previous attempts to boost green skills have failed due to stop and start government policy to boost demand for home energy retrofit and low carbon heat, but unfortunately the Heat and Buildings strategy does not set out a clear long-term strategy of incentives and regulation.   

The Clean Heat Grant is a welcome start, though it does not help those living in energy inefficient homes that are not heat pump ready.  We need a retrofitting grant, along with other incentives such as a variable Stamp Duty Land Tax for more efficient homes. This would encourage demand for exciting new financial products that are emerging such as green mortgages. Further regulation is also needed – for example, reform of the planning system and building regulations to enable local authorities to mandate installation of energy efficiency measures backed by adequate funding for building control officers.  

Whilst the government’s social housing decarbonisation fund and local authority delivery schemes have allowed councils to start retrofitting homes for those on low incomes, the Strategy does not provide the long-term funding certainty that would enable the build-up of local supply chains. £3.9bn will only reach a small fraction of the homes that must be made more energy efficient.  Without this, retrofit cannot be delivered at scale, leaving more families having to choose between heating and eating.  

The strategy also does not address the private rented sector, which accounts for over a third of those in fuel poverty. There is no new detail on implementing new regulations for Energy Performance Certificate standard ‘C’ rating by 2028 and no new powers for councils to make landlords comply. 

Examples of best practice include:  

  • Carbon Co-op, Greater Manchester – delivering a new end-to-end deep retrofit service – People Powered Retrofit. Carbon Co-op has trained over 200 installers and is working closely with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to scale up its work. 
  • Kensa Group, UK-wide – Kensa manufactures and installs ground source heat pumps, providing a solution for decarbonising social housing.  
  • Nordic Heat –The Heat Academy is a training platform supporting skills in greener heating and cooling, used nationwide.   
  • Retrofit Academy is accelerating retrofit co-ordinator training nationwide – the organisation is currently working with 800 trainees. 
  • Warmworks Scotland – a fuel poverty initiative, has created over 140 apprenticeships and uses SMEs in its supply chain. They have helped 20,000 homes across Scotland become warmer, healthier and more energy efficient. 

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