Ryan Philp, Daikin UK

What are the main challenges with decarbonising homes and the Future Homes Standards?

As the Government have set out targets of building 300,000 new homes to meet the demand from the housing crisis — it is imperative that these homes are decarbonised and ‘future proofed’ — hence, the Future Homes Standards.

The Future Homes Standard will require new build homes in the UK to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency; it will be introduced by 2025.

For the past 6 months, I’ve been supporting the Future Homes Hub (FHH) with guidance on heat pumps (air-source and ground-source) — renewable heating systems — by providing information on correct sizing and design considerations, best installation practices, market mechanisms and pricing points, skills and awareness training as well as information on holistic whole-house approaches (think smart home and smart grid).

Factory-built eco-homes at CITU’s Climate Innovation District in Leeds.jpeg
Factory-built eco-homes at CITU’s Climate Innovation District in Leeds

The FHH has been established to support the implementation of the Future Homes Delivery Plan to meet climate and environmental targets while building high-quality homes and places for now and future generations.

The Hub’s initial priority is to support the sector in meeting the Future Homes Standard.

The official industry launch of the hub was on the 10th March 2022.

What are the main challenges of the Future Homes Standard?

My short answer: public awareness of the technology and a skills shortage across the engineering sector in the UK.

The answer (and possible solutions) is not only relevant to the Future Homes Standards (for new builds) but also relevant for the existing UK housing stock that need to be retrofitted to achieve decarbonisation and help with wider sustainability principles.

Public Awareness

Whilst a small proportion of home-owners/ end-users are driven by “green” arguments, the vast majority are comfortable with a gas boiler and unaware of alternatives.

There remains a lack of trust in alternatives too, despite technologies such as heat pumps being a mature technology in use for decades.

This is particularly true in a country like the UK — the biggest gas boiler market in Europe — where less than three customers in ten have heard of heat pumps.

Figure 3.jpeg

(Delta-EE produced a really detailed white paper on how and why 2020s is the decade to decarbonise heat).

In the UK we have approximately 29 million homes — with on average 1.7million new boilers going in each year — this makes us the biggest gas boiler market in the whole of Europe!

And of those 29million homes — how many have heat pumps?

Less than 250,000 — that’s about 2%!

These numbers are depressing. By contrast, Norway — which has a harsher climate — is leading the way.

No other country has more heat pumps per capita.

For years heat pumps in Norway remained relatively niche, with less than 10,000 heat pumps installed by 2005.

But Norway’s embrace of heat pumps eventually arrived, fueled by government subsidies, high fossil fuel taxes, low electricity rates and restrictions on oil boilers (which have been banned since 2020).

Norway is now by far the leader of the pack. With 1.4 million units, it has over 60% of its housing stock now on heat pumps — and over 90% of their annual newly installed heating systems are renewables

So there is hope!

In the UK we need an education/ campaign on;

  1. Raising awareness on the negative effects of current heating systems (carbon intensive, fossil fuel heating ~ 20% of UK GHG emissions + the deadly effects of pollution (shocking air quality) due to the fumes of our existing systems).
  2. To educate and promote the alternatives available; renewables. Heat Pumps (Exhaust, Air-source, Ground/Water source) and other forms of electrified heating*.
*Hydrogen has a place as a solution to meeting net zero targets but should not be relied on as a silver bullet, especially for housing.
The health costs of air pollution are higher in London than any other city in Europe, a study has found.jpeg
The health costs of air pollution are higher in London than any other city in Europe, a study has found.

Skills Shortage

In the UK, installing our 1.7M boilers is a workforce of approximately 120-150,000 plumbing & heating engineers.

The Government have a target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by the end of this decade.

That’s roughly 10x the annual heat pump sales into the current UK market.

Heat Pumps ultimately use the same technology as air-conditioning systems.

In the UK we have approximately 50,000 FGas qualified engineers (they’re registered and safe to install systems that have gas/refrigerant connections).

Many of these engineers will be tied up continuing with the commercial projects their business models are based upon. Though there are many who will have existing domestic clients and an extensive residential portfolio.

We will need ‘all hands on deck’ to meet the Government targets — to achieve a ‘Green Revolution’ and keep on track to achieving Net Zero.

As many plumbing & heating engineers will need to be upskilled on renewable heating products and systems, whilst existing FGas engineers will need upskilling to work on heating and wet systems (as opposed to primarily cooling and air systems).

Heat Pump training courses can be found online via the Heat Pump Association(HPA) website: https://www.heatpumps.org.uk/training/

Opportunities

We have very little public awareness of the existing problem and the possible ‘clean’ alternatives, and we have a workforce that needs to retrain on new systems to meet the demand.

So where are the opportunities?

Aside from the financial opportunity for businesses to compete within this new, growing market space within the emerging ‘Green economy’, not to mention the added value this brings to the housing industry and a ‘Green Premium’— there’s also a HUGE social opportunity.

Of the existing heating engineers — only 12% are female.

This number is embarrassingly low.

There is very little diversity or representation within the engineering trade at present.

As we look to address a skills shortage and improve public awareness, there’s a massive opportunity to bring in new talent, new ideas and potentially new solutions.

Removing all barriers to entry, promoting and advocating girls and women within the industry, and offering guidance and support to aspiring young minds — we really have a chance to collaborate, learn and solve many of the problems that we currently face.

In my next post — we will explore further the topic of ‘What are the main opportunities that come with decarbonising our homes’?

Please get in touch if you want to learn more about any of the subjects that have been discussed in this article, there are countless resources available — with schemes and organisations working tirelessly to help decarbonise our buildings and promote social mobility across the UK.

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