UPDATED 1 Sept: The EI library in London is temporarily closed to the public, as a precautionary measure in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The Knowledge Service will still be answering email queries via email , or via live chats during working hours (09:15-17:00 GMT). Our e-library is always open for members here: eLibrary , for full-text access to over 200 e-books and millions of articles. Thank you for your patience.
New Energy World magazine 1 year anniversary logo

Celebrating one-year of reporting on the industry’s progress toward net zero

ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
Head and shoulders photo of Jason Torrance, Interim Chief Executive, UK100 Photo: UK100
Jason Torrance, Interim Chief Executive, UK100

Photo: UK100

Action organised by local authorities, with an initial focus on social housing, is the way forward for an urgent programme to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and homes. So writes Jason Torrance, Interim Chief Executive of UK100, the network of local government leaders.

UK100 was honoured to attend the net zero review launch last month alongside Chris Skidmore MP and the Climate Minister Graham Stuart. And I’m delighted that the Mission Zero report – which sets out recommendations to the government on meeting the UK’s net zero commitments in a more affordable, efficient, pro-business and pro-enterprise way – recognises the crucial role that energy efficiency must play.


At UK100, we wholeheartedly agree with the conclusion that ‘decarbonising homes is essential to delivering net zero, energy security and supply, and reducing energy bills’. Through our ‘End the wait. Insulate’ campaign, we have been calling for home insulation and energy efficiency improvements to be recognised and prioritised as a central component of the UK’s decarbonisation plans that must be enabled by the Energy Security Bill that is currently progressing through Parliament.


As Mission Zero acknowledges, the UK’s 30 million buildings are responsible for almost a third of our greenhouse gas emissions.


But action on decarbonising Britain’s buildings has stalled since 2015, after decades of progress. Mission Zero cites the government’s decision to cut support for insulation in 2013 and the resultant ‘lost decade of home insulation’. Insulation rates fell by around 90% after the cut; successive policies have failed to resurrect the industry due to being ended early or underfunded. The UK still has some of the leakiest, draughtiest homes in Europe.


This is frustrating because, as Chris Skidmore has long argued and does so again in Mission Zero, efforts to improve energy efficiency – and, in turn, reduce energy demand – would provide many benefits. For households, it can cut bills, improve health and wellbeing, and increase the value of homes while supporting economic growth and job creation.


Among its 129 recommendations, the review makes a number of welcome calls to improve energy efficiency, including:

  • Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) reform and the introduction of a new Net Zero Performance Certificate (NZPC).
  • Legislating for all homes to meet minimum energy efficiency standards by 2033.
  • Expanding the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to 2028 and increasing the value of grants to encourage more low-carbon heating system installations.
  • Expanding the government’s energy efficiency advice service.
  • Supporting the Retrofit Hubs to enable energy efficiency installers to seek training and advice; these could connect households to suitable installers.


Ultimately, Mission Zero calls for the government to ensure the right policies are in place to achieve the UK’s 15% energy demand reduction targets, as set out in the 2022 Autumn Statement. It also calls for clear interim targets and milestones to hit this goal and a published analysis of which mix of policy measures gets the UK to the target to assure future funding for those policies.


These recommendations are welcome and any efforts to improve energy efficiency in the UK would represent a vital step forward. However, we would go further.


Social housing first
This is why we have recently released our own report: End the Wait. Insulate. Social housing energy efficiency and the energy crisis.


It calls for an urgent package of support for local authorities with the aim of prioritising social housing energy efficiency as a means to permanently lower bills for some of the most vulnerable households, act as a catalyst for the wider energy efficiency market, reduce energy demand and accelerate net zero action. It presents the government with a cost-neutral and oven-ready plan.


The key argument in our report is that focusing on social housing will not only slash bills for the most vulnerable, but also kick-start local markets that can help plug the energy efficiency skills and supply chain gaps slowing the wider take up of energy efficiency measures in the UK.


It recognises that the Local Authority Delivery arm of the Green Homes Grant was a success in the hands of local leaders, despite being deemed a failure on a national level. Local authorities have consistently proven themselves best placed to exploit their local knowledge and skills to deliver energy efficiency measures at scale and most cost-effectively.


Focusing on social housing will not only slash bills for the most vulnerable but also kick-start local markets that can help plug the energy efficiency skills and supply chain gaps.


Our report also highlights the economic benefits of investing in a social housing energy efficiency approach, estimating that it could support over 20,000 local jobs – aligning with Mission Zero’s recognition that a revived energy efficiency market would support up to 175,000 jobs and add £6bn to the UK economy by 2030.


To achieve this, our report calls for the government to redesign the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) to deliver local authority social housing energy efficiency funding based on need, rather than competition. In addition to re-focusing the SHDF funding already committed by the government, the redesigned policy could attract £2.7bn of private investment.


The funding would support the upgrade of 180,000 socially rented homes by 2025. Mission Zero estimates UK businesses are currently missing out on £6bn/y in untapped energy efficiency measures.


The time for delay is over. The energy crisis is hitting Brits hard, with the poorest 20% of households seeing living costs increasing by about twice as much as those for the wealthiest. We can no longer afford to delay urgent action on energy efficiency. It is time to end the wait and insulate.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.