Tackling heat in buildings – now is the time to gain first mover advantage

Norwich Cathedral

Despite our famously fickle weather, the UK continues to have the least efficient building stock in Europe.[1]

Improving heating systems is a notoriously difficult task, given that many buildings are older and were designed before energy efficiency was regulated. For many years now, comfortably heating our buildings has relied on high levels of energy consumption.

This energy supply has typically come from fossil fuels, meaning that heat currently accounts for around 30% of total UK emissions, and that decarbonising our buildings is a critical element in the path to net zero by 2050.[2]

While the Prime Minister was roundly criticised for the lack of actions to reduce energy use in the British Energy Security Strategy, a closer look at policy changes shows that recent years (and months!) have seen a very real shift from high-level governmental targets towards real-time actions and policies. Amendments to building regulations come into effect in June, including new performance metrics for energy consumption, emissions, and building materials (ahead of the Future Building Standard in 2025). There are several policy updates coming down the line which should provide timelines for phasing out fossil fuel heating systems, increasing hydrogen-ready and low carbon systems, and implementing stronger energy efficiency standards across multiple building types.

It’s also worth noting the growing movement towards stronger reporting requirements, which is associated with greater public scrutiny of practices. People who have not yet felt the brunt of decarbonisation policy, such as landlords, will soon face both regulatory requirements and public pressure to take active steps towards net zero.

While the government has promoted heat pumps and, longer-term, hydrogen for space heat, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to decarbonising our buildings. Navigating the options available to you for transitioning to low carbon heat is a difficult task. Choices can be influenced by location, building use, commercial processes, available space, and personal preference. Heat pumps are the obvious candidate for newer properties, but their limitations mean that they do not work well in older, ‘leakier’ buildings which may be better served by biomass, for example.

Implementing zero carbon heating systems is currently a choice, but soon it will be a requirement. The UK Government has stated an intention to ‘significantly reduce’ energy consumption of commercial and industrial buildings by 2030; more detail on plans and targets associated with this goal can be expected in the next year. This means there is still an opportunity for first-mover advantage, but the gap is quickly closing!

AMP has worked in the low carbon heating sector for over 15 years and helped many businesses with their decarbonisation plans. To find out more about the heat and buildings policy landscape, check out our briefing paper on this subject, and to discuss your business’ options, please get in touch.

[1] https://theconversation.com/the-uk-has-some-of-the-least-energy-efficient-housing-in-europe-heres-how-to-fix-this-151609

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/final-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics-1990-to-2019