16 Dec 2020

Making our homes warmer and greener - highlights for housing in the Energy White Paper

The Government has laid out plans to help the country reach its 2050 climate change targets.

The Energy White Paper is a very significant step in the transformation of how we use energy which is an essential part of how we tackle the global climate change crisis.

Our homes and commercial and public sector buildings account for 19 per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions. Almost 90 per cent of homes in England currently use fossil fuels, predominantly for heating, but also for cooking and hot water. The vast majority of these homes, some 85 per cent, are connected to the gas grid. Currently, the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of too many existing homes is nowhere near good enough - with around 16 million homes in England, 66 per cent of the total - sitting at EPC Band D or worse.

These stats make buildings the second largest source of emissions after transport. To deliver the net zero target by 2050, it would mean hugely eliminating emissions from domestic and commercial buildings. The installation of energy efficiency measures and tighter building regulations has improved the energy performance of buildings over the last ten years, by lowering consumption and helping to reduce household fuel bills by an average of £30 to £40 per year. But we need to go further, and faster, to secure a reduction in emissions by 2050.

In November 2020, the Prime Minister announced £1 billion of funding to continue support for the decarbonisation of buildings through improved energy efficiency, which is being allocated across several existing government schemes, including:

  • - The Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme
  • - The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme and
  • - The Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund.

The Prime Minister then published a ‘Ten Point Plan’ which has confirmed the schemes will be extended for another year, helping to support the development of the supply chain and grow the market ahead of the introduction of regulatory measures.

Making our homes warmer and keeping bills low while moving away from fossil fuel boilers is one of the key objectives the white paper sets out to achieve. Retrofits will deliver improvements in the health and well-being of occupants, including reduction of risk to summertime overheating and damp or mould growth. By the mid-2030s we should expect all newly installed heating systems to be low carbon or to be appliances that we are confident can be converted to a clean fuel supply.

The white paper sets out concrete actions to reduce how much energy we use and to support the move to low-carbon heat. Key points for the housing sector include:

  • The Future Homes Standard will require new-build homes to be fitted with low-carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency. Homes built to the standard will have 75 to 80 per cent lower carbon emissions than those built to current standards.
  • Government will work with the building industry to incorporate smart technologies, such as heating controls, into the methodology for assessing the energy performance of homes in a bid to avoid the need for costly retrofit measures where possible.
  • A Government commitment to consulting on mitigating overheating risk in new homes and a range of methods are to be considered to demonstrate compliance with new requirements.
  • £50m of funding to support the delivery of upgrading existing homes to meet EPC band C.
  • Action to improve energy efficiency of homes in the private rented sector (PRS), using recommendations from a consultation on proposals for an estimated 2.8 million PRS homes to meet a minimum energy performance standard of EPC Band C by 2028, where practical, cost-effective and affordable.

Meeting these ambitious commitments to decarbonising and improving the energy performance of our housing stock will require the mobilisation of around £100 billion of capital across homes, businesses and the public sector over the 2020s alone. The white paper states that this investment must come principally from businesses and homeowners, and from landlords of domestic and commercial premises. Growing the market for green finance products will be essential to leveraging this scale of private capital and demands a partnership between the financial services sector and suppliers, manufacturers, and energy services companies.

A roadmap of the Future Homes Standard is due ‘as soon as possible’. A dedicated Heat and Buildings Strategy is also due for release in early 2021 which will set out these ambitious plans in further detail. Alongside a package of incentives, Government plans to create a long-term regulatory framework to improve the energy performance of homes and will be consulting on the options for these measures in 2021. We should also expect to see an ‘energy-related products’ policy launched in spring 2021, which will push for greater energy and carbon savings.

CIH eagerly awaits further detail on the practicalities of reaching these targets and will work with our members to better understand the next steps. Decarbonising homes is a vital component in our national effort and as a sector we must be leading the way in tackling this crisis. The new Social Housing White Paper outlines how the Decent Homes Standard will be reviewed by autumn 2021, and will consider energy efficiency and decarbonisation, access to green spaces and access to communal space.

Our climate change week (8 – 11 February 20201) aims to help you accelerate your net zero carbon journey. It is an exclusive opportunity for members to explore the risks, challenges, and solutions. We have got an excellent line-up of speakers, with staff and residents from across the sector showcasing examples of successful retrofit, modern methods of construction and the best methods to undo your organisational carbon footprint – plus loads more. CIH is also working with Orbit Group to make the case for change as governments across the UK decide how to boost investment after the COVID-19 crisis. In the first of  a four-part series, ‘Warm Homes and a Safe Environment’ sets out how the housing sector can lead the drive to tackle climate change and achieve the targets the government has adopted to reduce carbon emissions and which it has put into law. The second publication on how to green your organisation is due to be released in line with climate change week.

Written by Alexandra Gibson

Alex Gibson is a policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing. She leads on housing sustainability (net zero carbon and retrofitting), as well asrepairs and maintenance.