Colin Timmins, H&V Portfolio Manager at BEAMA, explains what needs to be done from 2020 onwards to ensure that we are able to meet carbon targets and, eventually, acheive net-zero.

We start the year with a new government in place following the December General Election and as they, in common with all the major parties, went into the election with manifesto commitments to move towards net-zero, the decarbonisation of heating should be on the agenda.

But making commitments is one thing, delivering action is something else, and 2020 feels like a major year for the latter. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that industry and consumers need to see significant things changing this year if we are to start building the awareness, support, and confidence that will be needed from all sides to deliver such a major transition. On this basis, a number of key things need to happen in 2020.

Firstly, the consultation on Part L of the Building Regulations for new homes came out in October and proposed much higher levels of energy efficiency, as well as a clear path to low carbon heating. These regulations are due to come into force in 2020 and, over the five-year period that they are in force, around a million new homes will be built. It’s inconceivable that any government could credibly say it is working towards net-zero if the ambition in the consultation does not become reality. 

The targets are ambitious but achievable, which is clearly what is needed to drive real change, and new homes are one of the easiest areas to improve, from a technical perspective at least. You could go so far as to see the proposed efficiency standards for new homes as symbolic of any real commitment to meet a 2050 target. Pull back on this and it will be very difficult to believe there is any sense of urgency.   

Moving existing homes towards net-zero is a more difficult nut to crack and, given that some of the large scale transition technologies, such as hydrogen, are not at the stage of imminent implementation, there needs to be a focus on improving the current situation. 

There are opportunities to improve the control and efficiency of existing systems, and to change less efficient or blocked radiators with low temperature ones suitable for future low carbon systems. Part L of the Building Regulations for existing buildings, also due in 2020, will be a key driver of this, as nearly eight million homes will have an existing gas boiler replaced under these regulations. These need to demonstrate a clear drive towards the highest practical standards for the whole heating system, and to ensure that new homes are futureproofed for when boilers are replaced with low carbon heating in the future.

Installers will have a key role to play in heat decarbonisation, both in terms of the installation of new heating technologies, but also in advising consumers of the need for change and the options open to them. It will take time to implement a comprehensive programme of training and skills development but, at the very least, we need to see the emergence of a detailed plan in 2020 and the availability of easy to access training for any installers who see the benefits in being early adopters and want to take practical steps. 

Realistically, all heating installers will need to be trained over the next decade to identify and install suitable alternatives, such as hydrogen-ready boilers, heat pumps, hybrids, renewables etc., and we can’t afford to lose a year of progress towards this.

Driving change, particularly in existing homes, will require a supporting infrastructure to make it easy for householders to take action. The government’s Each Home Counts review a couple of years ago looked in detail at things like advice provision, financing, consumer protection etc. to see how such an infrastructure could be put in place. 2020 would be a good time for the findings of this review to be fully implemented, as we will not have time to put such an infrastructure in place when large scale change should be underway. 

The above are things that we will be looking out for in the coming year. The key thing for 2020 is that everyone, public and industry alike, must be able to see a government that is truly committed and starting to make progress. For those who are aware and ready to act, any failure of ambition at a political level is likely to breed cynicism and apathy which we simply cannot afford. We are at a very early stage towards net-zero, but every step now needs to be in a positive, forward direction.