Industry calls on government to urgently widen its net zero technology focus

The government needs to urgently widen its technology focus, including other forms of direct electric heating alongside heat pumps, if it is to deliver the accelerate the take up of low carbon heating.

This ‘technology agnostic approach’ needs to be reflected across funding, training and policy. That was among the conclusions of an industry panel at the launch of the Sustainable Energy Industry Association’s report A Technology-Agnostic Approach to Heat and Buildings Policy last week.

The cross-industry panel endorsed the aims of the report, which makes a host of short term and longer term policy recommendations to the government, which include creating a National Retrofit Strategy; decoupling the gas and electricity tariff; stepping up reform of EPCs and SAP; accelerating improvements to Building Regs Part L; and introducing holistic training for retrofit skills; as well as education for consumers.

The report’s author Ben Copson called for a holistic focus that will create buildings that are “energy efficient, warm and healthy”.

He said that it was essential to bring together improving of the building’s fabric, decarbonisation of heating, control and management of operational energy and engagement of the consumer – rather than to focus on one particular technology. He said:

We need to find the best mix of solutions for each use case and…focus more on outcomes than on the technologies themselves…We also need to unlock a new workforce that is able to install a variety of different measures.

The need for technology agnosticism was acknowledged by Matt Aylott, Electrification of Heat Lead at the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero.

He said:

Our secretary of state may have changed, but our commitment to technology agnosticism has not. An estimated 20% of UK homes won’t be suitable for heat pumps. That’s where the need for technology agnosticism comes in.

To deliver on the commitment, the department needed reliable data on new technology, so he is keen to work with the industry on this, he said, with trials underway of both air-to-air heat pumps and infrared heating.

A consultation on price rebalancing between electricity and gas is expected this Spring, he added. “The government is firmly committed to the decarbonisation of heat and this is a key element in that.”

The focus on diversifying the low carbon technology was welcomed by manufacturers of electric heating. Matt Dodds of infrared specialist Herschel noted the ability of infrared systems to work with whole house smart controls and grid, while Johan du Plessis of tepeo stressed that non-heat pump technologies are disadvantaged by missing out not only on direct subsidies, but VAT relief too.

He said:

Consumers want choice: they don’t want to feel coerced into installing a heat pump…We should be focusing on electrification, not [specifically] on heat pumps.

See also Johan’s recent BEAMA column on the subject.