Ray Jones, Group Managing Director at national property services business Liberty, discusses how a new government proposal to tackle climate change is one of the most significant developments in the business’ 50-year history.

Politics may well be stealing the headlines at present but last year an announcement sent shockwaves through the property services sector.

During the Spring Statement in March 2019, the Future Homes Standard (FHS) was launched, which laid out the government’s blueprint for a carbon neutral future.

It proposed radical measures to significantly reduce residential emissions in order to meet the target of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. These included phasing out fossil fuel heating systems in new homes by 2025 and amending the Planning and Energy Act 2008 to cut pollution.

Currently, 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from homes. The latest government figures suggest that, while household emissions have almost halved since 1990, they are expected to have increased between 2017 and 2018.

In October, the standard was finally unveiled, along with a new national design code and a consultation on options on changes to Building Regulations. The consultation closes today.

Clearly, this commitment to futureproofing homes with pioneering energy efficiency and low-carbon heating is a positive step and must be welcomed if we are to successfully tackle the dangers associated with climate change.

By 2025, the goal is for new dwellings across the UK to achieve up to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions. But what exactly does this mean for the future of our sector?

Trialling new technologies

As alternative systems continue to be developed, such as electric boilers and heat pumps, rigorous testing and trialling is needed. It will help to identify the solutions that will create the best outcomes for customers.

These innovative technologies can provide cost-effective and reliable ways to heat homes. However, to install them at scale, the whole supply chain needs to catch up in terms of its capability to deliver products in large quantities that meet the standard.

Retrofitting these technologies will almost certainly mean significant refurbishment, or the installation of complementary technology such as battery storage and solar PV. These can offset the costs to the end-user by generating and storing electricity on-site.

Increased home insulation can also reduce the amount of heating a home requires. However, these complimentary technologies can be expensive to install. This will continue to be a real challenge, particularly when addressing the issue of fuel poverty. 

At Liberty, we believe that investing in battery storage and solar PV could help landlords deliver mass retrofitting of electrical heating systems at affordable prices, and we’re piloting this concept at the moment. 

This has two main benefits:

  • Using electricity generated by the solar PV on-site reduces energy bills for customers and can provide the electricity needed to power electrical heating systems, such as air source heat pumps
  • Landlords can generate an income from selling excess electricity to the grid, helping towards the cost of installation.

A major issue, however, is the shortage of engineers who are adequately trained to install these emerging technologies.

This is something we have already started to address. The Liberate Academy, our in-house training centre, is upskilling engineers to get the relevant qualifications so that we can deliver these pilot schemes.

Retraining large numbers of engineers is a significant undertaking, but it is something the sector must get behind. To help businesses adapt, the government has said it will invest £34 million to scale up innovative training models for across the country.

The Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government and Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, meanwhile, have also stated that they are working with the sector to boost the skills gap.

Preparing for the future

It is vital to recognise that gas will remain a major part of the UK’s energy mix for many years to come. However, the heating sector must adapt to meet the needs of the carbon neutral agenda.

While there is still a way to go and many challenges to overcome, this evolving marketplace provides huge opportunities that the industry must grasp to prepare for the changes ahead.