First things first

The headline news in February was that the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) has recommended that no new homes be added to the gas grid from 2025. And that our existing domestic building stock be weaned off gas in no short order.

As the Daily Mail put it: ‘Gas hobs and boilers could be BANNED from new homes within six years’ (their capitals).

It’s true that the CCC has highlighted domestic heating as a major source of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. But this is about far more than replacing your gas hob and boiler. The Committee makes it very clear that the energy efficiency of homes, in particular the existing housing stock, needs to be tackled first. And I think that this is going to be the really challenging part.

The UK isn’t the first country where reducing a reliance on gas has been suggested as the next step to carbon reduction. The EU has recognised that domestic heating contributes about 40% of the area’s GHG emissions. But all across Europe, the improvement of energy performance of existing houses is proving to be a big challenge.

Whatever the energy source – electricity, biogas, hydrogen – or its delivery mechanism, reducing the requirement for electricity and heating must be the first step. That means better designs for new homes, and much better enforcement of standards on energy performance. It also means help for those with older houses, and some way to encourage/enforce insulation improvements.

The CCC proposal has its merits, but there is no point at all in switching away from gas without a parallel improvement in building energy performance. Things have to be done in the right order, or all we are left with is an unnecessary drain on green electricity (already a stretched resource).

A national programme of domestic refurbishment for better domestic building efficiency could be good news all round. Cutting carbon emissions and creating jobs – what politician would say no? Unfortunately, all of this requires carefully coordinated focus and effort on environmental, energy and housing policies. And that’s something which the government has not been very good at (a fact recognised by the CCC).

This is a question of first things first. Plenty of research has been done on the major benefits of a refurbishment programme for older housing stock; the figures are there for all to see. As the CCC itself says, we need an end to ‘chopping and changing’ government environmental policy; investment in training for installers for energy efficient solutions; and education of householders about how to run their homes more efficiently. These things may not grab headlines in the same way, but they should be the priority.

Karen Fletcher

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