Heated Debate

The Building & Engineering Services Association issued its response to the Department of Energy & Climate Change’s framework for the future of heating.

Heating consumes more energy than transport or electricity generation and, according to the
Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), around £33bn will be spent on heat across the UK economy in 2012.

Producing this heat, whether it is used to keep homes and offices warm, provide hot water, cook food or manufacture steel, iron and cement, means burning fossil fuels, with around 80 per cent coming from gas alone.

As a result, heat accounts for approximately a third of the UK’s greenhouse gases – a situation the Governments says is simply unsustainable.

According to the 2011 Carbon Plan, Britain’s buildings need to be virtually zero-carbon by 2050 if the country is to play its part in global efforts to combat climate change.

The Government also wants to reduce exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets, where gas prices rocketed by an average of 9.4 per cent in the past 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.

Last year alone, avoidable heat loss cost UK consumers well over £1bn and the department believes a combination of behavioural change and improved building design can achieve “dramatic” reductions in demand.

Over the next decade, the Government’s focus will be on improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions and laying the groundwork to achieve the maximum impact from lowcarbon heat sources through initiatives like the Green Deal, which launches later this year.

In the 2020s and 2030s, ministers expect to see lowcarbon heat become a mass market, while industry will increasingly adopt low-carbon heat sources such as biomass.

Beyond that, the DECC envisions Government policy concentrating on helping business and consumers tackle “more challenging” areas such as rolling out low-carbon heating to difficult to reach buildings and supporting technologies that require more innovation, such as industrialscale carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Giving its response to the paper, the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES), formerly the Heating & Ventilating Contractors’ Association, accepted the significant role of heat in both energy demand and carbon emissions, but argued there is “insufficient action” on cutting heat loads through energy reduction. This, it added, suggests “it is better not to use it than generate it in the first place”.

The association also said there is “significant evidence” suggesting an emphasis on lowcarbon or renewable generation actually encourages a belief that reducing energy use in the first place is not important.

Furthermore, the B&ES said that there is growing uncertainty over UK energy policy, particularly regarding the future of nuclear and CCS.

It called for a “truly coordinated integrated strategy for heat” because there are currently no clear guidelines for designers and developers to make long-term decisions about the type of heat to specify.

“The current economic climate leads to short-term decision-making and this is not aided by uncertainty about Government policy following recent changes to FiTs. The lack of commitment to Green Deal by
our members is reflected in this uncertainty.”

The Green Deal itself needs to be made “fit for purpose”, as the challenge of managing heat demand in existing homes cannot be overestimated, it warned.

“Householders do not wake up in the morning and ask themselves how much energy can they save today,” the association said.

And while the Green Deal could be a “very good mechanism” to drive energy upgrades, the B&ES has identified a number of “serious flaws” in the detail.

Firstly, there is little incentive for households to get involved, with the cost and uncertainty of securing a loan against their most valuable asset likely to discourage many.

Furthermore, the B&ES argues that the disruption of having green upgrades carried out “probably outweighs the benefits” as energy prices, although rising, remain a relatively small proportion of disposable income.

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