Energy industry trade body report calls for zero carbon homes policies, review of the RHI and support for wider range of low carbon heating technologies

The UK energy industry has urged the government to help kick-start a much needed decarbonisation of heating, warning that without rapid policy action the sector risks “being left behind both in terms of resources and focus”.

The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and a host of renewable energy bodies and green groups have previously warned urgent action is required to curb emissions from heat if the UK is to meet its medium and long-term climate goals. But today they will be joined by the UK’s largest energy trade body, Energy UK, in calling for bolder policy action to accelerate the roll out of green heat systems.

Specifically, the group, which counts more than 100 energy suppliers, generators and stakeholders as members, will call for the reintroduction of zero carbon home policies, a review of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), and renewed support for testing a range of technologies to help shift away from fossil fuel heating sources.

The headline proposals are among a raft of recommendations set out in a new report by the trade body, which explores some of the barriers to consumer uptake of low carbon solutions for the heating of buildings – an essential service that currently accounts for around a quarter of UK greenhouse gas emissions.

Heat remains one of the most challenging sources of UK greenhouse gas emissions. While boilers and other heat systems account for around the same proportion of UK emissions as the electricity sector, power generation has seen emissions fall sharply in recent years as coal plants have closed and more renewables have come online – a trend that is set to continue.

In contrast, heat related emissions have proven stubbornly difficult to curb. Building energy efficiency improvements such as insulation has led to some improvements, but government spending on such upgrades has been curbed in recent years. Meanwhile, the roll out of alternative heat technologies such as heat pumps, district heating systems, and biomass boilers has been hampered by relatively high costs and various technical challenges, especially when switching to green heat systems for existing properties.

The government’s advisory body, the CCC, has said meeting the UK’s target of reducing greenhouse gases by 80 per cent between 1990 and 2050 may be impossible without a near complete elimination of emissions from heating homes and businesses.

In its Clean Growth Strategy released last year, the government also said cutting emissions from the UK’s heating sector remained one of its toughest decarbonisation challenges.

But Energy UK chief executive Lawrence Slade said that while moving away from carbon intensive heating remained a “huge challenge” it was also one that the UK could not afford to delay any longer as “at present it is in danger of being left behind both in terms of resources and focus”.

“Industry is already taking leadership in helping to deliver this change, as is highlighted throughout the report, but government has a vital role to play in kick-starting this transformation, which is why we’re setting out areas where it should get the ball rolling,” he said. “If, as the government’s Clean Growth Strategy sets out, the 2020s will see real change taking place in heating, then we need to prepare the ground now.”

The report calls for a review of the RHI and other programmes for supporting low carbon heating systems before the end of the year in order to include a greater range of technologies, give more scope for private investment, and better target property developers, housing associations and other actors to encourage widespread adoption across buildings.

It added that the review should reflect the findings of a recent National Audit Office report, which concluded the RHI had not delivered value for money for UK taxpayers.

The Energy UK report also adds to a chorus of calls for a reintroduction of zero carbon home standard policies, arguing that a national energy efficiency campaign could be combined with changes to building standards to accelerate the roll out of low carbon heating systems and slash emissions from buildings.

And, the report will call on the government to set out a plan to deploy low carbon heat solutions in properties that are most suitable for such measures, including the estimated 15-20 per cent of UK households estimated to be off the gas grid.

Paul Clark, chair of the Energy UK Decarbonisation of Heat Working Group and head of policy at British Gas owner Centrica, added that customers had too often been overlooked in the debate about heat decarbonisation.

“This report reflects the need to better understand the customer case for new technologies, as well as an appreciation that a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply won’t work in a country with such a diverse range of housing types and environments,” he said.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was considering BusinessGreen‘s request for comment at the time of going to press.

However, green businesses and NGOs are likely to welcome an intervention from one of the UK’s most influential trade bodies, which should help ensure the debate about the decarbonisation of heat is pushed even further up the government’s energy agenda.