HA magazine’s Joe Bradbury looks at the important role social housing plays in getting to net zero

The United Kingdom has set a legal goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To achieve this, the government wants to increase household energy efficiency and transition to greener heating methods by the end of the decade, halving the energy use of new builds.

Considering 40% of UK emissions come from households, it’s clear to see that our homes have an important part to play in meeting the 2030 emissions reductions.

In 2020, around 4 million houses were occupied by households socially renting.

This just goes to show how big a role housing associations and local authorities will play in tackling the climate crisis.

This is brilliant, but we still have a way to go

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Digital editor of Housing Association magazine

We’ve come a long way

Great strides have already been taken and we have already come a long way in terms of cleaning up our act.

Thanks to the efforts and due diligence of housing professionals, the average UK home’s carbon footprint has reduced by 4.7 tonnes of CO2 since 1990.

This is brilliant, but we still have a way to go; a further reduction of 3.6 tonnes by 2030 will help keep us on track to the 80% UK-wide reduction in emissions by 2050 required to tackle dangerous climate change.

An ambitious and commendable target – however, it will not be possible to meet the legally-binding 2050 emissions reduction target (or future ambitions for net-zero emissions) without a near complete decarbonisation of how we heat our homes.

The role of renewables

The Government has already recognised the value of heat pumps in helping reduce household fuel bills and lowering the nation’s overall emissions levels, with the Committee on Climate Change forecasting that heat pump sales will rise to over one million units per year by 2030.

Decarbonizing Britain's houses is not just necessary for combating climate change, but it's also a great way to save money.

Air source heat pumps are incredibly efficient (in some cases 300% or more), which means that for every one unit of electricity used, they produce 3 units of useful heat.

If you compare that to a brand new boiler which is 95% efficient (1 unit of gas produces 0.95 units of useful heat), you can quickly see why these systems are so popular.

In fact, if you don’t have access to mains gas, heat pumps are definitely the way to go to fulfil your heating and hot water requirements – provided you have a well-insulated home.

Better still, if you decide to install an air source heat pump in your home, you can also benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive, which pays you for each unit of hot water you produce.

In our experience the RHI will cover the cost of installing the heat pump, but it gets paid over 7 years on a quarterly basis, so you will still need to find the money up front!

All of these savings can then be plied back into other energy efficiency schemes, further reducing the harmful impact our housing stock has on the planet.

Social landlords can continue driving change

Most of the housing sector is now in agreement that the only tangible long-term sustainable solution for meeting our energy needs, alleviating fuel poverty and doing what is right for our environment would be to establish a properly funded programme to insulate all affected homes and ensure an efficient and up-to-date heating system is installed.

Of course, guaranteeing this outcome would require significant investment – estimated at about £1.7 billion per annum over 15 years.

Needless today, as we make our way out of the pandemic – funding is tight. We must therefore make sure we save as much money as we can so we can channel it into energy efficiency.

Not only is there a human cost to fuel poverty, but also a great financial burden. Fuel poverty puts enormous pressure on hospitals and doctor’s surgeries across the country.

Longer recovery

This is not only because of the physical and mental impact of living in a cold home, but also because it can actually extend the period of time a vulnerable patient is kept in hospital, with some actually not being discharged until their home is renovated to habitable state once again.

The impact is estimated to burden the NHS with costs of £1.36 billion per annum. It is also a known contributor to the 25,000 excess winter deaths per year in England and Wales.

As the ageing population increases, with diminishing pensions so will the health risks and related cost.

If we could reduce fuel poverty, we could free up more funding that could be better spent on protecting our environment.

We must continue our transition towards renewables, as it has enormous potential to save Britain and its people money.

In these uncertain times, one thing looks certain – renewables are a major part of the answer.

Joe Bradbury is digital editor of Housing Association magazine