The Building and Engineering Services Association responded to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s framework for the future of heating.
Heating uses more energy than transportation or electricity generation, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimates that the UK economy will spend around £33 billion on heat in 2012.
Producing this heat, whether it is used to heat homes and offices, provide hot water, cook food, or manufacture steel, iron, and cement, necessitates the use of fossil fuels, with gas accounting for roughly 80% of the total.
As a result, heat accounts for roughly one-third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – a situation that the government claims is simply unsustainable.
According to the 2011 Carbon Plan, Britain’s buildings must be nearly carbon-neutral by 2050 if the country is to contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.
The government also wants to reduce its exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets, where gas prices have risen by 9.4 percent on average in the last year.
In a new paper, the Future of Heating: A Strategic Framework for Low Carbon Heat, the DECC notes that much of the heat generated in the UK is currently wasted anyway because it escapes from poorly insulated buildings, is used to heat unoccupied space or achieves temperatures that are uncomfortable.
Avoidable heat loss cost UK consumers well over £1 billion last year alone, and the department believes that a combination of behavioural change and improved building design can achieve “dramatic” reductions in demand.
Over the next decade, the government’s priority will be to improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions, and lay the groundwork for maximising the impact of low-carbon heat sources through initiatives such as the Green Deal, which will launch later this year.
Ministers anticipate that low-carbon heat will become a mass market in the 2020s and 2030s, with industry increasingly adopting low-carbon heat sources such as biomass.
Beyond that, the DECC envisions government policy focusing on assisting businesses and consumers in tackling “more difficult” areas such as bringing low-carbon heating to hard-to-reach buildings and supporting technologies that require more innovation, such as industrial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES), formerly the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association, responded to the paper by acknowledging the significant role of heat in both energy demand and carbon emissions, but arguing that there is “insufficient action” on reducing heat loads through energy reduction. This, it goes on to say, implies that “it is better not to use it than to generate it in the first place.”
The association also stated that there is “significant evidence” that a focus on low-carbon or renewable generation encourages the belief that reducing energy use in the first place is unimportant.
Furthermore, the B&ES stated that there is growing uncertainty regarding UK energy policy, particularly the future of nuclear and CCS.
It called for a “truly coordinated integrated heat strategy” because there are currently no clear guidelines for designers and developers to use when making long-term decisions about the type of heat to specify.
“The current economic climate encourages short-term decisions, which is exacerbated by uncertainty about government policy as a result of recent FiT changes.” This uncertainty reflects our members’ lack of commitment to the Green Deal.”
The Green Deal must be made “fit for purpose,” as the challenge of managing heat demand in existing homes cannot be overstated, according to the report.
“Households do not wake up in the morning wondering how much energy they can save today,” according to the association.
While the Green Deal has the potential to be a “very good mechanism” for driving energy upgrades, the B&ES has identified a number of “serious flaws” in the details.
To begin with, there is little incentive for households to participate, as the cost and uncertainty of securing a loan against their most valuable asset is likely to deter many.
Furthermore, the B&ES contends that the disruption caused by green upgrades “probably outweighs the benefits” because, while energy prices are rising, they remain a relatively small proportion of disposable income.