Kick-starting the home heating revolution

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Published: 13 October 2021


Carbon Co-op is a community benefit society based in Greater Manchester which runs a retrofit training programme for building contractors

As the government commits to ‘build back better’ there is an urgent need to ‘build and retrofit greener’ if the UK is going to meet its carbon emission targets, according to climate solutions charity Ashden.

The current gas crisis has brought home the vulnerability of the nation in terms of future power and heating and the fact that the Heat and Buildings Strategy is long overdue. Ashden says the strategy must develop skills for the thousands of installers needed to ensure nationwide delivery. To put this in context, 29 million homes or 1.8 per minute, need retrofitting by 2050, according to the Committee on Climate Change.  

There are only 1000 accredited heat pump installers compared with 96,000 installers of mainly gas boilers and only 2% of the 36,000 retrofit co-ordinators needed.  


 

A tenant being shown how the Kensa 'shoebox' heat pump works. The ground source heat pump is designed to provide both space heating and domestic hot water in new build and retrofit properties and is providing a solution for decarbonising social housing

The strategy should also provide support for people on low incomes including those in fuel poverty, forced to choose between food and heating, to make their homes more energy efficient and create incentives for others to retrofit. 

According to the Climate Change Committee’s 6th carbon budget, nearly 11 million houses need to move from gas to renewable heat sources by 2035. Yet since December 2019, government schemes have retrofitted just 200,000 homes. 

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 other under-represented groups to seek careers in building a greener future.  

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

“Pioneering organisations are showing how communities, councils and social enterprises can meet the challenge but it needs 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 amendment of the Skills Bill to include climate education and its focus on the key role of employers. However, its urges 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. 

The charity says local government needs long-term funding certainty so councils can deliver comprehensive area-based programmes and build up local supply chains. With gas price rises leaving many families struggling to pay their energy bills, a ‘fabric first approach’ that looks to reduce energy demand through improving the fabric of the house, particularly insulation, will leave fewer families having to choose between heating and eating.  

Over a third of those in fuel poverty live in privately rented homes. The Heat and Buildings Strategy must commit to implementing new regulations on Energy Performance Certificate standard ‘C’ rating by 2028 and give councils the powers to make landlords comply. 

Other incentives and regulations needed to encourage all homeowners and landlords to retrofit their properties include green mortgages, a fiscally neutral, variable Stamp Duty Land Tax for more efficient homes and loan and low-cost finance initiatives. The 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 are also required. 

Ashden's 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. 
  • The Kensa Group, UK-wide - Kensa manufactures and installs ground source heat pumps, providing a solution for decarbonising social housing.  Their vision is Mass ground source heat pump adoption in the UK using a street-by-street approach featuring a split ownership model and individual networked heat pumps utilising waste heat and enabling grid balancing. Useful Statement of Intent here. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.

Ashden