While the recent Energy White Paper’s commitment to tackling fuel poverty is welcome, says Patrick Chauvin, Executive Director of Assets at Stonewater, there is little use in waiting around for the government to put its plans into action
The Energy White Paper’s focus on tackling fuel poverty is something Stonewater welcomes, as we house over 70,000 customers in homes across the country. We know the pressures many people face – especially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But we have not been simply waiting for the government to put its plans in place – welcome as they are. We have been pushing ourselves to understand the carbon footprint of our existing properties and ensure we build homes fit for the future. This work is ongoing, but already we are committed to ensuring all our homes reach EPC C by 2030.
A key part of our work on new and existing homes has been on exploring the use of heat pumps. The Energy White Paper outlines plans to increase annual heat pump installations from 30,000 a year to 600,000 a year by 2028.
We know this will not be easy, but work we commissioned from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the summer showed how it can be done.
“We have not been waiting for the government to put its plans in place – welcome as they are”
At our pilot project at Blackbird Leys in Oxford, 60 affordable homes are being retrofitted with ground-source heat pumps as part of the Energy Superhub Oxford. This will cut thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide and save our residents money, helping tackle fuel poverty.
We have also installed air-source heat pumps at homes in Swindon, meaning we now have in the region of 700 homes heated by heat pumps. This is only the start, but it shows what we as a housing provider can achieve – and we plan to do much more to address the climate emergency.
To do this, however, we need to work in partnership with the government. For instance, we fully support the ambition of a Future Homes Standard (FHS) to provide good, modern properties and ensure all homes hit the net-zero carbon target by 2050. But we need greater clarity.
It would be extremely helpful if the government could publish the FHS and the target date for implementation. That will allow us to develop our preferred approach to meeting the standard. The figure suggested within the consultation document was to achieve a 75-80% reduction in carbon dioxide based upon 2013 Part L of Building Regulations.
The FHS consultation also suggested heat pumps and heat networks should be the primary forms of heating alongside improved insulation standards – the Energy White Paper echoed this – so that is what we are expecting.
Phasing out fossil-fuels
The Energy White Paper indicates fossil-fuel heating systems will be phased out in England within the next 15 years. This is in addition to an upcoming consultation on whether there should be no gas grid connections to new homes being built from 2025.
We welcome these plans, and the sooner a decision is made the better. From our work with heat pump suppliers – and also looking at the heat pump report published alongside the Energy White Paper – we know the market will scale up supply to meet demand. The sooner this happens, the more cost effective the technology will become and service support expertise will increase.
Certainty in these areas allows us to plan and understand the costs involved. While we will do all we can to deliver for our customers, meeting the 2050 target and providing the investment required will mean bridging a funding gap.
How big a gap we do not yet know. But government support, ideally in grant form, will very likely be needed to ensure the 2050 target becomes a reality.
The Energy White Paper calls for bold steps to tackle climate change. We are ready to work with the government to continue taking these steps.
Image: Patrick Chauvin, executive director of Assets, Stonewater. Credit: Stewart Turkington/www.stphotos.co.uk
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