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Carbon-neutral Homes

Volume 808: debated on Thursday 10 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards (1) the target for carbon neutral homes by 2050, and (2) improving energy efficiency standards for existing buildings.

Between 2010 and 2019, UK energy consumption per household has reduced by 21 %. Through our energy company obligation, we have upgraded over 2.2 million properties since 2013, and this year we announced a £2 billion green homes grant to help up to 600,000 more homes reduce their emissions.

I thank the Minister for his Answer and I hope he will agree that, with these things, the devil will be in the detail. For example, the Government’s ambition to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2028 is laudable, but how do they intend to incentivise owner occupiers to meet the £10,000 upfront cost of installing them in their homes? The retrofitting of homes, which is a massively significant issue, has actually stalled. Can the Minister explain why the Government believe that this has happened and say how far the £2 billion grant that he just mentioned will actually go, given that a report in 2017 to the energy efficiency group estimated that £5.2 billion would be needed every year until 2035 to get all our homes up to the EPC band C level, which at the moment 75% of our homes fail?

we are making considerable progress towards the target, but we recognise the role that energy efficiency will play in the decarbonisation of buildings. We remain committed to meeting our legally binding carbon budgets and will set out further action in the forthcoming heat and buildings strategy.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The Scottish Government have published proposals for point-of-sale standards to require all owner-occupied homes to meet a rating of EPC band C from 2024. Do the Government plan to implement the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that all homes—not just owner-occupied ones—are at least at band C by 2028?

We are constantly improving the number of homes: 34% of homes are now above EPC band C, which is up from 9% in 2009. Our various funding schemes. such as the ECO scheme and the green homes grant scheme, will all contribute towards raising those numbers.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is well aware that, since 2017, 1 million homes have been built that will need retrofitting. Yesterday, the MCS Charitable Foundation released its Energising Advice Report. It recommends having a publicly funded one-stop shop for advice to homeowners on how to retrofit their homes—something to make it easy for them. Is that sort of advice something the Government might accept?

I thank the noble Baroness for drawing my attention to the report, but we already have a digitally led advice service, Simple Energy Advice, which provides tailored advice to homeowners and landlords on energy performance improvements that they can make to their homes. It also signposts further funding and directs them to suitably qualified tradespeople

I draw attention to my interests in the register. Carbon-neutral homes will require a massive expansion of carbon-neutral electricity. How confident is my noble friend in the optimistic projections of the future cost of renewables and carbon capture and storage, given that most large projects—from the Channel Tunnel through nuclear electricity to HS2—feature enormous cost overruns?

I understand my noble friend’s scepticism on this, but I point him to offshore wind, the cost of which has plummeted over recent years. It is possible that we can meet the standards, but of course we have to be fully aware of the potential for cost overruns in the future.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interest in the register as the CEO of the Energy Managers Association. Covid has led to millions of employees working from home, and while this would not have had a major effect during the first lockdown, due to the lack of heating, the second lockdown is of course during the winter and there has been a marked increase in the amount of gas used by people working from home and putting their heating on at times when they would not have in the past. Have the Minister and BEIS looked into the amount of carbon emissions that this has led to in the UK? Are plans afoot to allow companies to install energy efficiency measures if they are contributing to the fuel cost—as they can under the Treasury rules—so that the home becomes a place of work?

The noble Lord makes some interesting points. I think we are all aware of the limitations of working from home, but companies should be as open and transparent as possible in their reports about the energy and emissions that they are responsible for. This includes employees who work from home.

My Lords, will my noble friend join me in congratulating National Energy Action on all it does on home insulation and warm homes? I have the honour to be the honorary president of National Energy Action. Is it fair that new homes are still being built using gas boilers, which will eventually be banned, given that there will be an enormous cost for the occupiers of those homes in retrofitting new boilers at some future date?

We are consulting on these matters at the moment. The noble Baroness makes a very good point and I happily pay tribute to the work that National Energy Action does.

[Inaudible]—climate change risk assessment concludes that the risks from overheating in residential and public buildings as a result of climate change are a top priority for urgent action. Can the Minister update us on progress in reducing this risk, and explain what the Government meant when the noble Baroness said on Tuesday that the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations for the most cost-effective path for getting to net zero by 2050 are

“often a bit more ambitious than our plans”?—[Official Report, 8/12/20; col. 1109.]

I did not hear the first part of the noble Lord’s question as he was cut off. On the second part, I have not seen the remarks that he refers to, so I shall write to him on that.

Point 7 in this scatter-gun 10-point environment plan identifies another two missing strategies: the national retrofit strategy and the fuel poverty strategy. What assessment have the Government made of the “help to fix” interest-free loan scheme proposed by the Chartered Institute of Building to deliver the future homes standard, and will the fuel poverty strategy still be forthcoming before the end of the year?

We are committed to reviewing the decent homes standard for social housing around energy performance and decarbonisation. We will be consulting on further regulations for homeowners in 2021.

In Greater Manchester, there are over 1 million homes needing energy efficiency upgrades but only about three homes are being assessed daily, so a householder who applies for a grant today is likely to face a three-month wait to get the go-ahead to start work. It will take more than a thousand years, at the current rate, to bring all Greater Manchester’s homes up to EPC level C. Does the Minister now accept that recruiting and training green home assessors, and upskilling the construction workforce, has to be his top priority, and that underpinning that has to be a decades-long investment plan to give certainty to those who are ready to invest their lives in this key endeavour?

I agree with the noble Lord that we need to invest further in training opportunities and upskilling. There are many jobs available in this sector and that is exactly what we are doing under the green home grant scheme. As well as grants to home- owners and the local authority delivery scheme, we are also investing in training places to bring those new jobs into fruition.

My Lords, much of the problem of poor energy efficiency in homes is found in the private rented sector. Although the Government have launched their fund for the decarbonisation of social housing, what combination of sticks and carrots are they planning to deploy to secure decarbonisation and energy efficiency in the private rented sector?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Our stick is that we are consulting on raising the minimum energy efficiency standards of privately rented homes, and our carrot is that landlords can apply through the green homes grant scheme to get grant aid to help them.

Does my noble friend agree that the climate change commission’s recently published sixth carbon budget just gives further impetus to Her Majesty’s Government bringing forward more measures to accelerate the rate at which targets can be met?

Since committing in law to eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050, we have announced a series of ambitious plans to cut emissions, including through the Prime Minister’s recent 10-point plan. We will of course consider the committee’s most recent advice carefully as we take further opportunities to cut emissions and build the low-carbon future that we all wish to see.