Following publication of UK100’s series of Local Net Zero Delivery progress reports, Rupert George, their Director of Communications and Campaigns, offers more insight into one of them, Heat and Buildings, in this thought piece.
There is no better time to get our house in order. And, no, I’m not talking about the Conservative Party leadership election. Instead, I’m talking about making hay while the sun shines and ensuring, as we face another energy price cap rise in October, that insulating our homes is a top priority before a hot summer gives way to a bitter winter.
Britain’s homes are among the draughtiest and least efficient homes in Europe. In 2019, 60% of homes in England had an EPC rating D or below — with A being the most efficient.
To reduce the energy bill burden on households across the country, we need to boost the energy efficiency of our homes. The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use, after all.
And, as acknowledged in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, local government is key to delivering warmer and more comfortable homes.
The Local Authority Delivery Scheme, routing funding to homeowners through local councils, has been a massive success. UKRI research from PwC reiterates that local Net Zero action, including action to upgrade our homes, is more cost-effective than a centralised, top-down approach. Every £1 invested in local Net Zero would realise almost £2 of energy savings while delivering more than £14 of wider social benefits.
With that in mind, UK100 — a countrywide network of cross-party, climate-ambitious local councils working on Net Zero and clean air — has released a new Local Net Zero Delivery (LNZD) progress report. We like to think of it as a local government version of the Climate Change Committee report to Parliament.
The LNZD report on heat and buildings looks at what the departing Prime Minister and government have got right. Including The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSD), which is being deployed effectively by local authorities to retrofit council-owned properties. And the Treasury’s moves to emphasise the need for the UK Infrastructure Bank to focus on Net Zero — and upgrading our homes in particular.
These moves have allowed innovative local authorities from across the political and geographical divide to pick up the baton and run.
For example, the Wiltshire Council Housing Energy Efficiency Programme aims to get all existing council housing properties up to EPC level B within ten years. And it includes getting the homes ready for low carbon heating too.
Wiltshire is jump-starting the market-led transition to Net Zero in their region by encouraging education providers to train the workers necessary to bridge the skills gap. And by creating the supply chains needed to expand the project beyond council-owned homes they are giving all households in Wiltshire the opportunity to lower bills.
Similarly, Leeds City Council has done great things with social housing and the PSD scheme. Annually their work to boost the energy efficiency of council homes and public buildings is saving 3,951 tonnes of carbon emissions and 20,538MWh of energy. They have also maximised the opportunity of public buildings to produce 2,168MWh of renewable energy.
In Lewes, the district council is working with six other Sussex authorities to insulate and install renewable energy to benefit 40,000 social homes. The councils have pooled their financial muscle and, like Wiltshire, focused on local skills and job creation to boost Net Zero action and the regional economy.
These are encouraging steps forward. And the new Energy Security Bill and the latest five-year vision from Ofgem will give local government a crucial role in regulating local area heat networks and supply of heat.
The commitment to improving the EPC energy efficiency rating system to make it fit for Net Zero is excellent news too — and shows that Whitehall is listening to the concerns of experts.
Perhaps most critically, Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards also need reform. And we need to stop building new homes that will need upgrading in the near future by bringing forward the Future Homes Standard.
However, the big issue — and it is big — is the scale of the challenge. UK Green Building Council’s calculations show that reaching Net Zero by 2050 requires 108 homes to be upgraded every hour for the next 25 years.
Rather than indulging in an electorally self-destructive debate about Net Zero, the Conservative Party leadership candidates need to recognise the broad support for positive steps already undertaken — and move quickly to enable local councils to do more, more quickly.
The Heat and Buildings report, along with other Local Net Zero Delivery Progress Reports, is available on the UK100 website.
Rupert is the Director of Communications and Campaigns at UK100, a network of ambitious local authorities committed to Net Zero and clean air. An expert across the health, charity, environment and political sectors, he previously was Public Engagement Officer for a Green Party MEP and has worked for the Centre for Justice Innovation, Global Action Plan, Release and TalkingDrugs.