Opinion Piece by Julie Godefroy
CIBSE

10-Point plan for a green industrial revolution 

Government have published this week their 10-point plan to a green industrial revolution, which is meant to support the UK’s net zero carbon target as well as creating and supporting up to 250,000 British jobs and “levelling up” the country.  

The plan represents £12 billion of government investment, of which government say £8bn is new (Labour says £4bn), and it hopes to attract over three times as much private sector investment by 2030. A large proportion is allocated to transport, followed by the energy sector. Smaller pots are announced for the building, nature, innovation and green finance sectors.

 

In its headlines, the plan broadly covers four of the five investment priorities highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC)[1]: low-carbon retrofit; energy infrastructure; low-carbon modes of transport; investing in nature. The fifth, investing in a circular economy, is hardly covered except through a “products policy framework” for Buildings, and possibly under innovation. Government has also responded to the CCC’s advice by announcing a new Green Jobs taskforce. Some of the measures are really welcome, for example the expansion of offshore wind capacity, the commitments on electric vehicles and associated infrastructure, and support to low-impact transport.

But there are some big caveats:

Government must send consistent and clear messages: support to a low-carbon economy is not only about spending on low-carbon solutions, but also gradually reducing support to fossil fuels (see news item). To encourage investment in low-carbon solutions, government should also address the current discrepancy between the carbon and cost impacts of electricity and gas; of course this must come with efficiency, in order not to put households at risk of fuel poverty – more on this below.  

The plan must be accompanied by detail: At the moment, it is a list, and heavy on ribbon-cutting and grand-sounding measures. It must be translated into the nitty-gritty throughout the policy and financial framework, otherwise it risks being poorly implemented, lacking credibility, and being ineffective alongside inconsistent policies.

We also need strong governance, particularly on the natural environment. Progress of the Environment Bill has long been delayed, which risks a huge gap at the end of the Brexit transition period. Government must not seek to limit the independence of the Office for Environment Protection, the new “green watchdog”.

The plan offers far too little on buildings and reducing demand: buildings are repeatedly highlighted by the CCC as needing serious policy to decarbonise. It is very disappointing that the plan includes so little about buildings, and in particular about demand reduction and energy efficiency.

Headline-grabbing concepts such as “hydrogen villages” must not detract from the facts: producing hydrogen at scale and in a financially viable way is still very uncertain; when and if it is available, for at least its initially phase it will likely be expensive and in small quantities, so best reserved for applications which have few other options (e.g. heavy industry) than for heating buildings, which is a low-grade application. As the National Grid stresses: “we can only meet net zero by 2050 if we improve the energy efficiency of homes, buildings and businesses, and build ultra-efficient new buildings” [1], and “The input energy required to heat an average house could drop to as little as a quarter of what it is today”[2].

It is also notable that, despite its small funding share, the building sector is estimated to represent a significant proportion of the jobs created and retained under the plan. Retrofit is not “shovel ready” if it is done properly, but it can create large numbers of jobs across the country.

In the housing sector, the plan states it will implement the Future Homes Standard in the shortest possible timeframe, but makes no mention of regulations for existing homes where measures are limited to extending existing schemes such as ECO, energy efficiency requirements in the private rented sector, and homes upgrade grants in rural areas. The main announcement is an extension of the Green Homes Grant. This is welcome if it means that timescales for the current funding pot are expanded: the current 6-month window is unrealistic for many projects, and an expansion will allow competence and quality requirements to be met by a growing number of businesses. The criteria could even be expanded so that PAS 2035 would not only be required for a small number of cases (high-rise buildings, park homes, and buildings that are both protected and traditionally constructed, under current grant rules). Government is reluctant to do this because of limits in the supply chain, and particularly the number of retrofit coordinators. This is not a justification. Instead, it is precisely one of the hurdles that needs to be tackled. Currently, under the Green Homes Grant advisory website Simple Energy Advice, consumers can easily pick a measure such as draught proofing or insulation, without being advised to look at ventilation or overheating at the same time. There is unfortunately ample evidence that this can lead to serious detrimental consequences.  PAS 2035 promotes a whole-house approach; it also requires the production of longer-term retrofit plans, so that households know how best to spend their money today, and what they can do later. Public funds on this scale must seek to return as much value as possible i.e. ensuring quality, evaluating post-project performance, and building the supply chain for later, larger programmes. 

For non-domestic buildings, the plan briefly mentions improving the energy efficiency of schools, hospitals and public buildings, with little detail other than a target to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 – a large part of this could be achieved through grid decarbonisation, again leaving out the essential part of reducing demand. It also refers to a consultation on standards for non-domestic buildings, which has been expected for months.

So overall, what we need now is a detailed plan for buildings, and especially the existing stock. It will take time to deliver and do it well, which is why we need to start now.

[1] CCC 2020 Progress report to Parliament https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/reducing-uk-emissions-2020-progress-report-to-parliament/ 

[2] National Grid ESO, 4th August 2020 https://www.nationalgrideso.com/news/fes-2020-how-could-net-zero-change-our-homes

[3] National Grid, FES 2020 report https://www.nationalgrideso.com/future-energy/future-energy-scenarios/fes-2020-documents

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