Will Boris’s Ten Point Plan change housebuilding in the UK?
Boris Johnson has this week announced a Ten Point Plan for launching a ‘Green industrial revolution’.
It’s hoped these environmental commandments will jolt the UK back on course for reaching a zero carbon target by 2050.
Campaigners have been critical of the Government’s lack of action since Theresa May declared a climate emergency and created this 2050 goal before she put Dancing Queen on the Westminster jukebox and shimmied onto the backbenches.
As we’ve come to expect from Downing Street in recent years, this announcement is light on detail and heavy on aspirational soundbytes. It does, however, give us an insight into where future regulations and policies are going to push industry, and it’s clear that several of these commandments will have a direct impact on the construction sector.
One of the ten categories is labelled ‘Homes and public buildings’. The Government is going to ramp up the transition away from fossil fuel boilers towards low energy heat pump systems. They want the UK to be installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. That’s quite a jump from the 30,000 we’re currently plugging in.
The UK has an existing ambition to phase out fossil fuel heating, including gas boilers, in all new builds from 2025. Housebuilders, some kicking and screaming, will need to switch to heat pumps to meet tougher emission targets in future Building Regulations. But new build projects will only account for a third of this 600,000 goal. The rest of these installs will come from renovating existing homes, so the Government’s challenge will be convincing Joe Public to invest in heat pumps which are a considerably higher-priced item than a few rolls of loft insulation.
Let’s leave the logistical debate of creating a new army of heat pump installers for another day.
Meanwhile, boiler manufacturers aren’t packing their bags just yet…another of Johnson’s commandments is to invest heavily in hydrogen. The end-game here is to keep the UK’s network of gas pipes operational, and to continue heating our non-heat-pumped homes with gas, but to replace the current fossil-fuel based gas with a hydrogen alternative.
This isn’t going to be easy as all existing boilers will need to be replaced with hydrogen ready models, and leaky pipework will need to be replaced before hydrogen is added into the mix. The Government’s plan is to have a town fully converted to hydrogen gas within 10 years.
Another commandment talks about offshore wind – quadrupling our current capacity. This, combined with a new network of power-station sized battery stores, could reduce the carbon emissions associated with electricity to next to nothing.
So, back to the construction industry...
The next set of Building Regulations are going to push carbon emission targets on our buildings to a much lower level than they are today. We were hoping the Ten Point Plan would be released alongside Future Homes Standard and Approved Document Part L updates, but sadly Whitehall are saving those long-awaited announcements for another day.
The above points on heat pumps, hydrogen and wind farms will lead to the following:
The UK’s electricity supply will soon reach a near-zero carbon level. This means any home that’s heated with electric – heat pumps or panel heaters, new build or ancient – will be close to zero carbon without the occupants lifting a finger.
Homes which still rely on gas will end up on the carbon naughty step until the hydrogen gas roll-out takes full effect. As we move closer to 2050 the UK’s gas supply will phase out fossil fuels for clean alternatives, reducing carbon emissions for this fuel source down to negligible numbers also.
With carbon emissions sorted, attention then turns to the amount of energy our buildings waste. Using more efficient heating and lighting, and insulating our homes more will deal with this problem.
Work is already starting on this; the new Part L is expected to introduce a Primary Energy Target which will take over as the main metric from the current Target Emission Rate. We are also expecting the new regulations to introduce a minimum EPC target for new homes to ensure fuel bills are kept low.