Decarbonising heat is critical to our net zero targets, but the transition has the potential to do so much more than this. Low carbon heating and energy efficiency have many societal benefits, from making communities more resilient and healthier to creating new green jobs in construction and manufacturing[i]. As the government’s Heat and Building Strategy acknowledges, decarbonising heating in millions of homes and building is huge challenge and progress is slow. Is it now time for local authorities to take a leading role in decarbonising heat in their communities?
The role of local governments in net zero
“Heat and efficiency are inherently local. Local actors are best placed to understand local context, including existing resources and infrastructure, and demand.” – ADE, Heat and Energy Efficiency Zoning: A framework for net zero for new and existing buildings
The government’s Net Zero Strategy also acknowledges the need for a national/local partnership on decarbonisation in general, committing to setting “clearer expectations on how central and local government interact in the delivery of net zero”. And in some ways, the consultation on heat zoning for heat networks[iv], i.e. designating areas for heat networks, is a testcase in how local planning with national backing unlocks house by house options. However, we need to take this a step further to address the efficiency and heating of all buildings in area, if we are to address spiralling energy costs and the sluggish progress nationally.
Planning and choice
There is an emerging debate between personal choice via a market-led approach versus having more of a centralised plan with some shared national infrastructure. In our view this is a false dichotomy.
Householders should be able to make happy, healthy choices as to how they heat their homes. This can also be a powerful tool in decarbonisation, e.g., there is more incentive than ever to improve our leaky homes, considering our current spikes in gas prices. Improving the fabric efficiency of all homes is our best bet in making us resilient to any future energy price spikes.
However, utilising the market and having a plan are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to work effectively, they rely on each other. A joined up plan to decarbonise heating should ensure changes are wanted, not endured.[v] Equally, the public will not be able to make empowered decisions in regards to their home heating without local and national governments providing the supportive system in which to do so…
What does empowered individual decision making look like?
Firstly, decisions must be informed.
Making an informed decision starts by being aware that there is one to make. (Are home owners aware they might be able to carry out some basic insulation measures to reduce their bills?) So the first step is to improve general public awareness.
This has been made particularly clear to us through our experience working with an artist, Karenza Sparks, as part of Regen Art Lab, who described the realities of the issue as “largely unrecognised by the public, yet critical for us all to consider when determining how we will choose to heat our homes”.[vi]
Then, people will need trusted advice. Someone who can put them in touch with retrofit assessors, trusted installers, and guide them through the process and any funding. It’s important to recognise that energy, for most people, is not something they feel they need to engage in, and that those on the poverty line have more pressing concerns.
Some local authorities and community groups already do this work. This could be helped by a national campaign which local authorities could utilise to enable authorities with less capacity to participate.
What else is required?
- The infrastructure and learning to share – In some locations, the best solutions may require shared infrastructure and, therefore, will require some coordination/planning, like low carbon heat networks or shared ground source heat pumps
- Works that do what they say on the tin – We need better quality assurance and to support the growth of a competent work force. We must ensure people get what they asked and paid for.
- Good communication with renters – There should be two-way conversations between non-homeowners and decision makers, before and during renovations.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it illustrates that clearly market-led systems alone are likely not to lead to empowered decision making in regards to home heating decarbonisation; local governments have a critical part to play in each of these examples.
A framework for a heat revolution
To articulate what the roles of local and national government in heat decarbonisation should be, Regen is exploring what a national – local partnership on delivering heat decarbonisation could look like in England. This framework needs to
- be structured, yet agile[vii], and work with feasible amendments to legislation
- consider efficiencies and disseminate learning, ensuring work is not doubled, and money isn’t wasted
- work for the whole country, i.e. for local authorities of all size and party, such that no community is left behind
We also want to come to a consensus on what this framework looks like, reflecting the work to date from other groups campaigning in this area. We will therefore be consulting heavily with stakeholders throughout the process and if you would like to input at this early stage, please do complete our survey here. Edit: The survey is now closed.
[i] BRE estimates excess cold in poor housing costs NHS England around £1 billion a year. link
According to a study by Energy & Climate, gas boilers account for a fifth of NOx emissions in Greater London, a gas which significantly raises risk of chronic mortality. link
Greenpeace estimates over 100,000 new jobs could be created by 2030 in the UK for fabric measures and changing to low carbon heating. link
[ii] “Local authorities have the local knowledge required to deliver Net Zero buildings… future Government initiatives should seek to strengthen the role of local authorities as delivery partners and fill gaps in existing powers.” Power Shift: Buildings – National Government, 2021, UK100. link
[iii] “Local government will be key to trust in the delivery of any programme. Capacity will be crucial and local authorities must be properly funded in order to build up the staff needed.” All hands to the pump, a home improvement plan for England, 2020, Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). link