Install more heat pumps to decarbonise homes, think tank says

A white house with its doors and window frames painted green.

Heat pumps combined with high energy efficiency standards should be central to a new strategy to decarbonise the UK’s homes, a think tank has said in a new report.

IPPR’s report, All Hands to the Pump: a clean heat plan for England, has called on the government to introduce a ‘Home Improvement Plan’ to drive the UK’s transition to low-carbon heating and energy efficiency.

The plan would see the ‘significant scale up’ of heat pumps – devices that transfer heat energy from outside a home to inside the home – to replace existing central heating systems.

Heat networks that distribute heating around neighbourhoods and a wider rollout of energy efficiency measures like loft and wall insulation would also form part of the strategy.

Such a plan would help to create 275,000 jobs in England alone, lower energy bills, and build on the £3 billion announced by the government for energy efficiency in last week’s summer economic update, IPPR says.

Jonathan Webb, IPPR research fellow, said: “A low-carbon heat strategy built around heat pumps would provide a tech-ready plan for decarbonising our homes.

“Adopting this technology now, and supporting its uptake, will allow industry to focus on the challenge ahead and enable the training of workers to begin in earnest. This will unlock job creation and allow the government to drastically accelerate the decarbonisation of our homes.”

At least 12 million homes across England will need to be fitted with heat pumps and energy efficiency measures such as insulation by 2050 for the UK to meet its 2050 net zero target, IPPR estimates.

However, according to the think tank, the government is installing less than 2% of the heat pumps needed each year for the UK to hit the 2050 target.

IPPR’s ‘Home Improvement Plan’ would establish a retrofit fund for England, initially at £5.3 billion per year, and provide households with grants to cover at least half the cost of heat pump installation.

Minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector should be ramped up gradually to at least a B EPC rating by 2030, while the government should also invest in a large-scale training programme for clean heat installers, IPPR says.

In addition to national measures, the think tank added that local councils should also be given the funding to drive area-based, ‘street by street’, retrofit initiatives.

The call comes as new polling revealed that almost half of the UK public believe that reducing carbon emissions from housing should be paid for through either general taxation or government borrowing.

Joshua Emden, IPPR research fellow, said: “The government’s announcement on energy efficiency was a very welcome step in the right direction. But we also need to focus on scaling up the low-carbon technologies that will heat our homes, not just making them more efficient.

“A new Home Improvement Plan would maximise the potential for savings on energy bills by going further on the good work that’s been done on energy efficiency and pairing this with low-carbon heating technologies like heat pumps.”

Tracy Harrison, chief executive of the Northern Housing Consortium, welcomed the IPPR report, which she said recognises the job-creation potential of retrofiting existing homes.

Harrison said: “IPPR are right to say that we must act now. The North’s housing sector shares the ambition set out in the report for social housing to be at the vanguard of a green infrastructure programme. With the right support, councils and housing associations can act at scale and pace.

“That’s why we support the calls for government to build on the plans announced last week, and set out an ambitious social housing decarbonisation fund, which would create good jobs and put money back in residents’ pockets through reduced fuel bills.”

IPPR’s report raises concerns that more government investment will be needed to decarbonise the UK’s homes and make them more energy efficient.

IPPR estimates that in England alone, it would take closer to £10.6 billion a year from both public and private investment until 2030, and a further £7 billion a year from 2030 to 2050, to meet the pace and scale of action needed.

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