Has the industry and government swerved off the road to better energy efficiency? Colin Timmins, H&V Portfolio Manager at BEAMA, explains.

It was a bit of a surprise that the recent publication of headlines from the 2017-2018 English Housing Survey points out that, while the energy efficiency of English homes has increased considerably over the last 20 years, it has not increased since 2015.

Versions of the English Housing Survey dating back to 2008 can be found on gov.uk, but this is a combination of the English House Condition Survey and the Survey of English Housing, versions of which date back to 1967.

The survey is based on a physical inspection of a sample of over 12,000 homes, and claims to provide a 95% confidence level that the conclusions are accurate. The physical inspection includes carrying out a SAP assessment to calculate the energy efficiency of each dwelling. 

While the average SAP rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) had increased from 45 points to 62 points since 1996, the report notes that there was no change in the SAP rating of homes between 2016 and 2017.

One of the big successes in reducing energy consumption noted in the report has been the significant increase in condensing boilers, and the survey indicates that 66% of homes now have condensing boilers.

It’s somewhat surprising that this is not reflected in the SAP ratings as mentioned above, it’s almost as if other energy saving measures that would be picked up by SAP are becoming less common.

It should probably be noted that, from a heating controls perspective, the assessment of energy efficiency used in the survey may not be taking account of some of the more up to date controls.

The SAP methodology currently doesn’t award any benefit for smart controls and, in its ‘reduced data set’ form (as was used for the survey), would not account for the presence of load or weather compensation.

So, it’s unlikely that the impacts of these technologies would be factored in to the results, and indeed the Boiler Plus regulatory changes, which focuses on these technologies, is unlikely to be seen to be having much impact in future versions of the survey.

Even allowing for slight weaknesses in how the data is collected, it is still worrying that we might be losing the focus on improving energy efficiency. This seems even more clear when we look at ambitions from the recent past.

In 2010, BEAMA was part of a ‘Heating and Hot Water Taskforce’, along with HHIC, HETAS, HWA, IDHEE, and the Solar Trade Association, with the government represented by the Departments for Energy and Climate Change, and Communities and Local Government. 

The group produced a report entitled Heating and Hot Water Pathways to 2020, which set out how to achieve measures that could be implemented by 2020 to improve energy efficiency on a scale that was consistent with overall government targets.

There is clear progress on some of these targets. One of these was for all installed boilers to be condensing by 2020, which compares reasonably well with the English Housing Survey report showing 66% in 2017 from 32% in 2010. 

Equally, a target that Building Regulations should mandate best available controls technology in homes is reflected in the Boiler Plus regulations and the forthcoming requirement for TRVs with boiler replacements, although our report specified that these should be in place from 2013.

However, taking these targets as a whole, there are clearly some big areas where aspiration in 2010 and current reality are wide apart. The assertion that 1.2 million heat pump installations could be practically installed by 2020, for example, is one of the targets where a shared goal has simply not happened. Equally, making hot water systems ‘renewable ready’ is something that is still being talked about but without any clear steps forward.

Looking back on this report illustrates how setting targets for the future, even a relatively short term one, is only a starting point and there needs to be a real commitment to making sure those targets are delivered. 

In fairness, the Green Deal has come and gone in the period covered by the Pathways report and it could be argued that had that delivered measures on the scale expected then things would look a lot more positive. 

The truth is that tackling climate change needs urgent action and, if action has slowed, that is a real problem. We cannot keep shrugging our shoulders over missed targets to deliver real change. If we do, then our decarbonised future will never arrive.