A plan for greening our homes
Our homes are responsible for 14% of UK climate emissions, with heating for all buildings accounting for 50% of our energy use. In this decade for action on climate change, making our homes warm, affordable to heat and low carbon is one of the easiest and most cost-effective measures we can take. It can also form a key part of a green recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic, as warmer homes improve health and wellbeing, create thousands of jobs and reduce inequalities: so this would assist a genuinely just transition to net zero.
"Neighbourhood by neighbourhood we can upgrade homes to be zero carbon starting now." - Elizabeth Leighton, Fellow
Ten years ago, I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to visit home energy efficiency programmes in the USA, to see what lessons we could learn for Scotland and the UK. The US programmes had received a boost in funding as part of their government’s stimulus funding after the financial crash, and it was a great opportunity to see how different approaches – grants, incentives, advice, and regulation – were working.
This experience helped me, in my role as Director of the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland, to influence the Scottish Government’s plans to retrofit our cold and draughty homes to tackle the climate crisis and make fuel poverty a thing of the past.
The Scottish Government has now published its Heat in Buildings Strategy, which includes many of the targets and policies the Existing Homes Alliance has argued for. It states that by 2030, most homes should reach a good level of energy efficiency and over 1 million homes will shift to low carbon heating. This is such an exciting time – imagine that virtually all homes in Scotland (indeed, all buildings) will be zero emissions from heat by 2045 at the latest.
We’ve done this before – the ‘dash for gas’ was a 10-year UK Government programme which changed 35 million appliances from town gas to natural gas in the late 1960s – and we can do it again. Neighbourhood by neighbourhood we can upgrade homes to be zero carbon starting now, matching the global call for urgent action in the next decade if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate crisis.
What does this look like for you and your community?
We’ll all be living in warm homes, powered by green energy, at the same or lower cost than our current energy bills. Walls, floors, roof spaces will be highly insulated and well ventilated. There will be a variety of heating options – mostly electric – depending on where we live and the kind of house we have. In rural areas that are off the gas grid, dirty heating like oil, coal and LPG will be phased out from 2025 and replaced with heat pumps, energy storage, solar power and local heat networks. In areas on the gas network, we’ll see a more gradual shift from gas heating to heat pumps and Scandinavian-style piped heat networks from 2030.
How can this be made the easy, fair and the obvious thing to do? I believe we need three things from government:
- Publish a clear roadmap: everyone should know what needs to be done and by when. The roadmap should include: mandatory standards for all homes to give certainty to the homeowner, landlord and supply chain; local plans to say what is the best heat technology for you and your property; and individual building renovation maps that outline steps to net-zero, tailored to your home.
- Level the playing field: Government energy policy should make low carbon heating cheaper than fossil fuel heat through taxes and subsidies. The government should work with industry to reduce the costs of heat pumps and support retraining and upskilling to create the workforce for zero emissions homes.
- Make it easy and fair: we need a massive engagement campaign, providing finance and hand-holding support, from learning about home energy through to designing the right measures, installation and quality control, and learning how to use the new kit and manage energy use. Vulnerable and fuel poor households should get priority and grant support – this is a positive opportunity to make them better off.
With these measures in place, what seems an insurmountable task becomes a positive opportunity for everyone. The dash for warm, green homes has already started and government policy and programmes must make sure you, your community and local businesses have what’s needed to get on board.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.