With £120m of backing, Dutch style retrofits could slash carbon emissions, gas demand and consumer bills, Green Alliance report argues
More than 11 million UK homes could be suitable for a highly energy efficient, Dutch-style approach to retrofitting that could drastically slash carbon emissions, gas demand, and consumer bills, according to a new study today by Green Alliance.
The think tank's latest report argues the UK's approach to incentivising energy efficient home retrofitting has proven "incremental and expensive", highlighting the previous coalition government's Green Deal scheme, which closed in 2015 after just two years, before being sold into the private sector.
Consequently, the UK has one of the least energy efficient housing stocks in Europe and there remain significant challenges in switching away from fossil fuel sources of home heating, the report notes - a challenge that will have to be overcome if the country is to meet its binding emissions targets.
The report argues that learning lessons from the Dutch government's pioneering Energiesprong approach to retrofitting - a one-step method where ultra-efficient insulation, heat pumps and home batteries are all installed at the same time - could provide a solution for millions of fuel poor homes and make a major dent in UK emissions.
The method has been widely used to create net zero emission houses in the Netherlands, and sees rapid retrofits carried out which are then paid for through long term energy savings. Green Alliance estimates it has the potential in the UK to reduce emissions by 37 million tonnes overall, the equivalent to removing 17 million cars from the roads.
Moreover, with Energiesprong homes designed to retain heat and store electricity using home batteries, it estimates the retrofitting approach could potentially help reduce UK demand for gas at peak times by 40 per cent, delivering further energy security, decarbonisation, and cost benefits.
Chaitanya Kumar, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, said Energiesprong retrofits could turn inefficient UK housing stock into net zero energy homes. "Through product innovation, cost effective off-site construction and rapid retrofitting, Energiesprong improves on all the shortcomings of the methods currently tried," he said. "It could energise a stagnant industry and transform home energy efficiency for many more people in the UK."
The government has faced fierce criticism in recent years for axeing zero carbon home standards for new builds and cutting funding for energy efficiency schemes in a bid to reduce 'green levies' on energy bills. The move has led to a slowdown in the rate at which insulation and other measures are fitted and has prompted warnings from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and others that without a revamped approach to improving domestic energy efficiency the UK will struggle to meet its long term carbon targets.
Energiesprong - or 'energy leap' - retrofitting is designed to be less invasive and more aesthetically pleasing for residents, as well as being more efficient and cost effective. It involves fitting a thermally efficient external façade to an existing building, in addition to installing a heat pump, solar panels, and potentially batteries inside the home to generate and conserve energy.
The approach has been deployed in the Netherlands for several years now where over 1,300 net zero energy refurbishments have been carried out. Another 14,000 or more are in the pipeline, according to the Green Alliance report.
The approach has also been piloted in the UK, where 10 homes in Sneinton in Nottingham were given Energiesprong retrofits in 2017, subsequently helping to cut householders' energy bills by up to 60 per cent in addition to boosting estimated property values by up to a quarter.
Just £120m would be needed, with no further subsidy, to more widely roll out such retrofits across the UK, Green Alliance argues. However, it recommends the funding commitment should be conditional on the industry bringing the cost of a single Energiesprong retrofit down from its current high of around £75,000 per home to £35,000 through economies of scale and industry innovation.
The report follows the launch of an industry consultation on net zero carbon buildings launched by the UK Green Building Council on Monday. The consultation responses will feed in the trade body's work to develop a framework definition for net zero emission buildings in line with the Paris Agreement.
Industry interest in accelerating the development of a net zero building stock is growing fast, but as the Green Alliance report makes clear without innovative new policy measures and funding commitments buildings will struggle to deliver the deep emissions reductions that are required.
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