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Energy Security and Net Zero Committee Call for Evidence: Heating our Homes

By August 31st, 2023No Comments

Energy Security and Net Zero Committee Call for Evidence: Heating our Homes

Call for evidence – Committees – UK Parliament

Closing Date: 25 August 2023

Response submitted by: National Insulation Association

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About the National Insulation Association

The National Insulation Association (NIA) represents the insulation industry in the UK with a member base comprised of installers, system certificate holders, and manufacturers who provide a wide range of insulation solutions for homes and buildings. The NIA and its members are fully committed to maintaining and raising standards within the insulation industry.

What policy changes are needed to deliver energy efficient homes across the UK?

Homes in the UK account for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions and are amongst the least energy efficient in Europe.1 The NIA therefore believe ambitious targets need to be set to address this. This includes the following policy changes:

1. Additional funding and long-term commitment to existing grant and loan schemes. This will ensure wider access for homeowners and landlords to energy efficiency measures. Across all available schemes, low and high-cost measures should be offered to ensure the most appropriate solution is provided to households. Insulation should be prioritised as it supports a fabric first approach, which significantly reduces heat loss from a building and reduces energy bills, whilst also minimising exposure to health hazards. The NIA suggests that though insulation measures should be made available to a wide pool of applicants, given the size of the challenge to decarbonise housing, the worst-first approach can be helpful to ensure households with the lowest EPC ratings and those in fuel poverty are improved quickly. Requirements for suppliers taking part in the schemes must be monitored to ensure their continued contribution, with suitable consequences for targets not being met. Clear and straightforward pathways to funding for applicants and installers will avoid delays, which have historically reduced the effectiveness of these schemes. To prevent the ‘stop-start’ nature that has previously disincentivised engagement from industry, the Government must set out clear processes for engagement with minimal administrative burdens.

2. Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for both new and existing homes. The Government has proposed a target for the Private Rented Sector (PRS) to reach a minimum EPC Band C by 2028 (for existing tenancies2 ), which the NIA supports. However, this should be expanded to cover all housing tenures to ensure progress in energy efficiency. Enforcement of these standards is a crucial aspect of the policy changes that the NIA would like to see. The NIA urges the Government to release the results of the consultation on MEES in the PRS as this would push forward progress and set a framework to follow across other tenures.

3. EPC reform to facilitate energy efficiency upgrades across the UK. The recent Scottish EPC reform consultation set out some important changes that will support the accurate assessment of EPCs, including a new set of metrics for domestic and non-domestic EPCs and greater focus on the fabric efficiency of the building. The NIA supports the use of these metrics and hold the view that by focusing on fabric efficiency the number of homes with poor energy efficiency can be reduced.

What are the key factors contributing to the under-delivery of the UK’s government-backed retrofit schemes?

1. Poor scheme design. The under-delivery of government-backed retrofit schemes is a result of poor scheme design. Often governments design a scheme to achieve their own political goals, but do not engage enough with the supply chain to make sure that the scheme is deliverable. To avoid this, earlier consultation with key stakeholders who are directly involved in scheme delivery, such as retrofit businesses, is needed. This is important as delivery organisations are often consulted too late in the process, at which point there is little opportunity to influence and improve the design of schemes.

2. Schemes are too short. Another common issue is that retrofit schemes are too short-term, which prevents them from being a success. Manufacturers, installers and the wider supply chain need to invest and prepare for a scheme. For many businesses, this investment is not economically viable for a short time period. There is a lot of paperwork and onboarding involved with working on government retrofit schemes, which is not always straightforward. It also costs a lot in product development and certification for manufacturers and installers. Therefore, if businesses deem the scheme to be too shortterm, they will not invest. Hence, longer term schemes are vital to give industry the certainty and stability to invest in the materials and training required for scheme delivery. Schemes are often finalised and enacted into law only a matter of months (sometimes less) before they are due to commence. This short timeframe does not give the supply chain sufficient time to ramp up and prepare itself to deliver schemes. In the case of ECO4, delays meant that households missed out on over £32.6 million of predicted bill savings, according the ECIU.3 .The delay also had very damaging effects on the insulation industry. Therefore, the NIA would like to see more notice given between the announcement of retrofit schemes and their start date.

3. Schemes require a lot of administration. The NIA appreciates the need to ensure compliance and high-quality work. However, the administrative burden associated with certain aspects of government retrofit schemes can exclude some businesses from engaging. Many new and smaller businesses do not have the knowledge or experience to support the administrative element of the schemes. This limits the scope of delivery because there is not enough competition or volume in the market. While we recognise that some level of administration is necessary to safeguard quality standards, smaller businesses and new entrants need to be supported through the administrative process to ensure that they are not excluded. To deliver the volume of installs needed to reach net zero, the retrofit industry will have to expand massively. Therefore, it is crucial that new businesses, especially those operating according to industry best practice, are supported in their mission to deliver high-quality retrofit.

4. Availability and cost of retrofit assessment/coordination. Skills shortages are common obstacles for government retrofit schemes, particularly when it comes to finding enough highly skilled retrofit assessors and coordinators. For example, the design of the Great British Scheme Insulation (GBIS) as a single measure scheme makes it difficult for jobs to be profitable. All measures delivered under GBIS require a retrofit assessment prior to install. However, the high cost of retrofit assessments and the difficulty of finding qualified assessors means that it is often not profitable for businesses to deliver a single measure to a property. Therefore, the NIA would like to see a focus on multi-measure schemes that deliver whole house retrofit. This will result in greater energy and cost savings for residents and make jobs more profitable for participating retrofit businesses.he volume of installs needed to reach net zero, the retrofit industry will have to expand massively. Therefore, it is crucial that new businesses, especially those operating according to industry best practice, are supported in their mission to deliver high-quality retrofit.

Which standards and assessment frameworks are needed to deliver a reliable, skilled workforce capable of transitioning UK homes to modern heating solutions?

The Future Homes Standard 2025, particularly the changes to Part L and F of the Building Regulations, will provide the baseline for improvements in the sector. It will aim to ensure that new homes produce 75-80% less carbon than existing ones. Whilst the NIA supports this, attention must also be paid to the 28 million existing homes that have inadequate levels of energy efficiency. Currently, 50% of dwellings have an EPC of D or lower according to the English Housing Survey 20224 , meaning that residents have higher energy bills and are more likely to be exposed to negative health impacts of cold homes. The NIA believe that both the worst first and fabric first approach should be followed to address the need for investment in existing homes. Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) across all housing tenures are also a key regulatory lever that will drive progress towards more energy efficient housing.

How might the Government support innovation in delivering local solutions?

Continued Professional Development and accreditation is vital to ensure that new technology used to insulate homes is safe and effective and does not result in unintended consequences. Local training programmes, qualification and apprentice schemes need to be made available to incentivise younger generations to enter the industry and upskill the existing workforce. This will address the need for a larger workforce to decarbonise housing and stimulate innovation.

However, even where innovative technologies have been proven to be safe and effective, there are still numerous barriers to their large-scale deployment. Therefore, the NIA would like to see greater government support for innovative measures. One of the most accessible routes for innovative technologies is via the “Innovation Measures” mechanism included within some government energy efficiency schemes. The NIA would encourage government to increase its support by raising the cost cap within government schemes and streamlining the process by which a new technology can be formally accepted as an Innovation Measure. The development of new solutions will be key to unlocking greater energy savings and accelerating the transition to net zero. Hence, it is vital that the industry has the support needed to foster ingenuity in the sector.

What role should customer choice play in the future planning of energy networks for home heating?

Does the current state of consumer protections for low-carbon home technologies represent a barrier to uptake of these products?

The current level of consumer protections for low-carbon home technologies varies, with those receiving installations outside of publicly funded schemes often subject to lower standards and protections. The Competition and Market Authority’s 2023 report on Consumer Protection found that while government schemes follow standards such as PAS 2035/2030 offering relatively strong consumer protections, for products installed outside of these schemes the level and robustness of the protections is lower. The report highlighted the risk that consumers can be put off from buying low carbon products as a result, particularly ‘able-to-pay’ customers who are not eligible for existing fuel poverty schemes despite a genuine need for support.

This barrier to uptake of energy efficiency products is concerning as it makes customers reluctant to invest, while increasing the potential of poor-quality installs, which damages consumer confidence further. The NIA is committed to maintaining and raising standards across the insulation industry. Therefore, we support robust consumer protections as they build trust in the sector and in emerging technologies. Uptake of low-carbon home technologies on an enormous scale is required to reach net zero in homes. For this to be achieved, consumers must have confidence in both the quality of low-carbon products and the quality of installations. It is important therefore, that these protections are clearly communicated, straight forward and readily available for the benefit of both installers and consumers alike. As installers are often the first point of contact for consumers when they learn about new technologies, it is important that installers can communicate their protections effectively. Therefore, the NIA advocates for robust protections, working in conjunction with high quality standards. This is the best way to protect consumers and ensure that residents can benefit from the financial, health and environmental benefits of high-quality retrofit.

How will the public be able to afford the switch to decarbonised heating?

The most effective way to ensure that the public can afford the switch to decarbonised heating is by following the fabric-first approach. Insulation can significantly decrease the heat demand of a property and cut heating costs. According to research by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, raising the EPC of a property by one SAP band from D to C can reduce space heating demand by 20%.5 Insulation is the most effective way to make home heating affordable because it reduces energy demand and energy bills.

However, taking a fabric-first approach is especially important when it comes to the installation of low-carbon heating systems, such as heat pumps. Heat pump efficiency is dependent on the flow temperature at which it operates, running at higher efficiencies when the flow temperature is lower. However, a property can only be adequately heated at low flow temperatures if it has a high thermal efficiency. Therefore, the installation of fabric efficiency measures prior to, or alongside, heat pump installation means a smaller, cheaper heat pump can be installed which will then operate at higher efficiencies over its system lifetime. If low-carbon heating is installed and then insulation added afterwards, consumers may be left with a heating system that is not proportionate with the property’s reduced space heating demand and therefore has capital and running costs that are unnecessarily high. It is vital that properties are as insulated as much possible before installing low-carbon heating systems to ensure they are sized correctly and cost less to run.

The Government has set ambitious targets for the decarbonisation of heat including to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028, rising to 1.9 million per year by 2035. The NIA support these targets but, for the transition to low-carbon heat to be achievable and cost-effective for consumers, it must be accompanied by a national insulation programme of similar scale and ambition. This will ensure homes are ‘retrofit ready’. As part of this national insulation programme, the Government must consider more policies to support and incentivise the installation of energy efficiency measures, particularly in the “able to pay” sector, for instance by supporting innovative green finance mechanisms and leveraging private investment. This support should be combined with a public information campaign to raise awareness of the financial, health and environmental benefits of insulation. Insulation will safeguard consumers from increased heating costs, thereby ensuring a just transition to low-carbon heat, especially for those vulnerable groups most at risk of falling into fuel poverty due to energy bill increases.

How will decarbonisation plans be drawn up in each area?

Do the current EPC frameworks help consumers make informed decisions on transition?

The NIA recognises that EPCs are a useful framework to facilitate energy efficiency improvements. However, the current framework was created 15 years ago when the retrofit landscape was very different.6 Therefore, we believe reform is needed to modernisation the framework and make it fit for a Net Zero context.

To this end, the Scottish Government’s recently published consultation on EPC reform is encouraging and offers some useful proposals. It proposes to introduce three separate headline metrics: a fabric rating, a cost rating, and heating system type.7 This provides consumers with a more detailed information breakdown on the performance of different aspects of their home, which will help consumers to make informed decisions about the best route to improving the energy efficiency of their homes. The NIA supports the introduction of similar reforms across the UK.

A fabric-first approach is widely accepted across government and industry as the most effective approach to retrofit. To reflect this, we would like to see fabric efficiency given more weighting within EPCs as a necessary first step towards decarbonising homes. Fabric efficiency should also be more clearly signposted on EPCs to give consumers a clear idea of their property’s current fabric performance and how this can be improved. The Scottish Government’s proposals to include fabric efficiency as one of three headline metrics on EPCs are welcome in this regard.8

An additional improvement to the EPC framework includes more regular trigger points for assessment. Currently, EPCs are valid for 10 years. However, the energy efficiency landscape is constantly changing as new policies and targets are introduced to drive the transition. The NIA support reducing the validity period of EPCs and introducing additional trigger points for EPC assessment to encourage engagement with current technology. Trigger points include:

  • Major renovations, including extensions
  • Minor renovations, including replacing windows
  • Marketing of a property
  • Applications for green finance.

This would allow a more up-to-date and greater coverage of EPC data across the housing stock. It would also provide a more accurate picture of the UK housing stock and its energy performance for policymakers, businesses, and consumers. The Government must support industry to train new energy assessors and upskill existing workers, to increase the number of skilled energy assessors. This would improve the accuracy of EPCs and thereby increase consumer confidence in the reliability of the EPC framework.

Do standards need to differ for different types of housing?

What is the role of different levels of government in developing, funding and implementing schemes?

All levels of government have a role to play in delivering energy efficiency schemes. Central government is best placed to set direction in terms of policy and scheme design. This should always be done through early dialogue with those who implement schemes, particularly local authorities and retrofit businesses.

Funding for energy efficiency schemes should also come primarily from central government, alongside some match funding from LAs. However, the private sector also has an important role to play in funding energy efficiency schemes, something has not yet been fully explored in the UK. Some international energy efficiency schemes, such as the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) scheme in the US9 and the KfW loans and grants scheme for energy efficiency refurbishment in Germany10, have already been successful in attracting private investors into the retrofit sector.

By leveraging investment from the private sector, these international schemes, have been able to deliver large numbers of energy efficiency measures to households, particularly in the ‘able to pay’ sector, in a cost-effective manner. The Residential PACE scheme in the US has funded energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades worth a combined $4.2 billion (as of 2019), while at the same time remaining revenue-neutral for local municipalities.11 In this way, private sector funding can pave the way for retrofit at scale.

When it comes to the implementation of energy efficiency schemes, this is usually most effective at a local or regional level, as most energy efficiency work is carried out by local installers; therefore, it makes sense for implementation to be devolved to local authorities and other local actors. Local authorities have a more detailed and nuanced knowledge of their local housing stock. However, there has historically been issues with a lack of resources to efficiently deliver schemes and a need for technical support to meet funding application deadlines. Without this there is a risk of delay which can have negative impacts on scheme reputations for consumers and industry. The Government need to be aware of this and provide additional support to LAs where needed.