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Home Insulation

Volume 838: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards delivering the Great British Insulation Scheme.

My Lords, until the end of February 2024, provisionally, 7,506 measures had been installed in 6,238 households under GBIS. The Government are considering whether any legislative changes to GBIS are necessary, and any policy changes would be subject to public consultation, which we would aim to issue this summer. Changes would then be implemented through affirmative regulations.

My Lords, even if the delivery of the Great British insulation scheme keeps pace with its most successful month to date, it will reach just 13% of its target of 300,000 homes by March 2026. The green homes grant was scrapped before it reached just 10% of the 600,000 homes it targeted. Meanwhile, insulation rates declined by 90% when the Government scrapped the successful programmes they inherited in 2013. The fact is that UK homes are some of the least well insulated in Europe. If the Government cannot make progress on delivery, have they considered giving devolved Governments and local authorities the power and resources they need to upgrade cold and draughty homes in their areas instead?

There were a number of questions there. In response to the noble Baroness’s last question, the majority of the schemes are currently delivered through local authorities. I absolutely concede that delivery through GBIS has been disappointing. I held a round table with the obligated energy suppliers in March to discuss possible changes and improvements to the system. We will have more to say on that shortly. But this is only one of a number of different energy-efficiency schemes. In the last year alone, we spent about £2.5 billion on improving insulation and upgrading the homes of the poorest members of society.

What actions have the Government taken to improve the energy efficiency of homes in the private rented sector to date, and what outcomes have been achieved? Does the Minister agree that it is imperative that we improve the take-up of home insulation schemes among the poorest households, which are often the hardest to reach?

I certainly do agree that we need to target the poorest households, which is precisely what we do under schemes such as the social housing decarbonisation fund and the energy company obligation. The noble Lord is also right to point out that the private rented sector is one of the most difficult sectors. But home insulation grants, ECO, et cetera, are often rolled out in PRS homes.

My Lords, insulation is plainly cost-saving, whatever form your heating takes, but it is particularly important in respect of heat pumps, powered as we know by expensive electricity. Does the Minister yet know when the Government will announce the long-promised rebalancing of the cost of electricity versus the cost of gas?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that, whatever form of heating you have, insulation is always a good thing, because you can use less of it. Rebalancing is obviously a particularly tricky political issue. We are currently looking at it and, although I cannot give the noble Lord a date yet, we hope to have a consultation on some proposals out shortly.

As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, says, reaching net carbon zero requires the use of heat pumps, but they are too expensive for most people. Also, installers will not put them in flats even where there are suitable areas, such as the boiler next to the outside balcony, that can be used. What are the Government going to do about propelling installers into helping us reach net zero?

Installing a heat pump where you need an outside condenser unit is difficult in flats, but it is certainly not impossible. I am certainly not aware of any prohibition from installers on installing them in flats. If you have the available outside space, if it does not disturb your neighbours too much, and if planning requirements are specified, it is perfectly possible to install heat pumps in flats.

My Lords, in 2015, George Osborne, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, cancelled the zero carbon homes regulations that were supposed to come into force the next year. Since then, several hundred thousand houses have been built that are substandard in terms of insulation. Would it not have been a much better decision to have implemented the 2016 regulation, which would have stopped all this expenditure now on retrofitting?

The noble Lord is asking me to speculate on past Governments, some of which the Liberal Democrats were part of. I agree with the noble Lord that the future homes standard should be implemented as quickly as possible, and DLUHC assures me that the consultation is live at the moment and will be implemented next year.

My Lords, there is a growing need for this sort of endeavour. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware that, over in the United States, ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence is currently consuming 4% of America’s electricity generation. It is forecast that, by the end of this decade, six years away, it will be 20% to 25%. Are the Government making any plans to prepare for greater electrical generation in this country?

Indeed, my noble friend makes a very good point about the extent to which electricity usage will grow. Actually, the peak electricity usage in the UK occurred a number of years ago. We have actually been becoming more efficient in how we use electricity, with better lighting, et cetera. Clearly, if we move to more electric vehicles and more electrically powered heating, along with some of the circumstances that my noble friend outlines, electrical use will go up. We are spending many tens of billions of pounds on upgrading the electrical grid and rolling out increasing amounts of renewable: offshore wind, tidal, solar and so on. But in essence my noble friend is right that we need to plan for an electrical future.

My Lords, following on from that last question, my understanding is that, to have the all-electric, decarbonised, net-zero goal that we really want, we will have to produce and indeed consume about four or five times the present amount of electricity, from various sources. Here we are looking at an area that might reduce the growth of demand by some percentage—and the Minister mentioned the huge figure of some £2.5 billion. Can he give us some idea of what that percentage is? Will we use a quarter less electricity than otherwise, or half, or merely one-tenth? Can he give us a rough idea of where the money is going and what it is going to achieve?

I do not quite understand the noble Lord’s question. We will clearly use more electricity as we roll out more electric vehicles, the electrification of heating, et cetera—but we will use it in different ways. There are ways, for instance, in which we can do load spreading. One of the advantages of smart meters is that they allow people to consume electricity at different times and take advantage of different time-of-use tariffs, et cetera. So, as well as having particular peaks, we can also spread out those peaks over longer times of the day. There is a lot of demand management we can do, as well as increasing the amount of renewables we have on the grid, which we are doing.

Further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is the Minister at all confident that the standards for insulation are being met for all new build? Likewise, is he confident that they are being met where planning permission provides for refit? Because anecdotal evidence suggests that both are very low in achievement.

I think that the noble Lord is talking about the building regulations under future homes standard, which is what I was referring in response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. They are responsibilities of DLUHC. I am not aware of any evidence that the standards are not being met —clearly, it is the responsibility of local councils to ensure that the building regulations are adhered to—but I am sure that we would be interested in any evidence that the noble Lord has that the regulations are not being adhered to.

My Lords, there are examples of firms persuading people to use foam and other cavity insulation systems that cause great damage to their property, thinking they are doing the right thing. What are the Government doing to prevent this being carried out?

The noble Lord makes a good point. Cavity wall insulation needs to be installed correctly. Under the Each Home Counts review, we instituted a system of trust mark licensing for contractors, so certainly under all government schemes any cavity wall insulation that is installed comes with a 25-year guarantee, with appropriate supplier protections and a quality mark guarantee as well.

My Lords, what assessment has the Minister made of the report placed by his department on the government website last month saying that there were major problems with the supply chains necessary for the development of offshore supplies? What are the Government going to do about it?

When the noble Lord says “offshore supplies”, I presume he is referring to offshore wind production. I have not seen that particular report, but now the noble Lord has mentioned it, I will look at it. Supply chains in offshore wind are particularly important. In fact, yesterday in Grand Committee we debated a new regulation of supplier interest reforms that will give an additional payment to offshore wind providers to ensure that their supply chains are more appropriately located in the UK, with more domestic production, et cetera. For existing contracts for difference, they will need to produce a supply chain guarantee to show where the supply chain is and where it originates.