What will 2022 hold for our decarbonisation work?

Rory Hughes, 26 January 2022

As the energy crisis continues, our work on decarbonisation has a renewed sense of urgency, so it is worth recapping where we have come from and where it is going in the next few months. 

It’s clear that by 2050, all housing association homes need to be shifted from fossil fuel heating systems to electric heating (mostly heat pumps), decarbonised heat networks and potentially some onto hydrogen systems. To do this successfully and in a way that addresses the issue of fuel poverty, many homes will need additional insulation. There will be no role for offsetting any residual fossil fuel heating systems left in housing association homes.  

Due to the long-term approach housing associations take to asset management, we found that many are concerned about those homes that are particularly hard to decarbonise. We have learnt that homes can be hard to decarbonise for a variety of reasons including the high cost of materials and labour, barriers in planning policy preventing the insulation of external walls, installation of double or triple glazing, or fitting an external air source heat pump. In some cases, there are technical, geographical and spatial challenges as well.  

Recent works have explored the issue of hard to decarbonise homes and also identified that technologies such as heat pumps are technically viable in all housing archetypes. I'm looking forward to our webinar on 9 February when we’ll discuss heat pumps and better understand their critical future role in a decarbonised housing sector. (Update: a recording of this webinar is now available to watch.)

To begin to tackle the issue of hard to decarbonise homes, ultimately with a goal of making as many social homes as possible viable for a net zero world, we are working with our Sustainability Strategy Group and other partners to research the type, scale and geographical distribution of hard to decarbonise homes. We hope to provide further updates on this work in the coming months.  

In other decarbonisation news, our Chief Executive Kate Henderson was invited by the government to join the Net Zero Buildings Council, which met for the first time in December 2021. This dynamic partnership between the government, industry and third sector will focus on the delivery and implementation of key objectives within the Heat and Buildings and Net Zero Strategies. It is jointly chaired by Lord Callanan (BEIS) and Eddie Hughes (DLUHC). 

We have also been busy digesting the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy and responding to its accompanying government consultations. These include the government’s proposals to phase out fossil fuel heating systems in off-gas grid homes from 2026. To respond to this consultation we met with many rural members across the country and the Rural Housing Alliance to understand the impact of this policy on their homes and organisations.  

It is clear that retrofit is the primary medium term solution to the energy crisis, yet there are rumours that the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme may be scrapped. We estimate that ECO has helped improve the energy efficiency of around 368,000 social homes over the past decade, making homes warmer and improving the health of residents. Scrapping ECO would be self-defeating and counterproductive to long-term efforts to reduce fuel bills. If the rumours are true, the government must think carefully about the risks of scrapping ECO.  

As a sector, we have developed a strong and positive relationship with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on decarbonisation. We continue to work closely with BEIS on the design of Wave 2 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and other funding streams to ensure housing associations are equipped to tackle the twin challenges of climate catastrophe and fuel poverty. When we launched the decarbonisation guide, the Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng welcomed it and stressed the contribution of the sector towards the work of the Department. He said, “It is critical we have strong and cogent voices providing direction and raising ambition in the efforts to decarbonise social homes. With the publication of our Heat and Buildings Strategy and Net Zero Strategy on 19 October 2021, your guide is timely in driving forward the necessary action in the sector. I know my officials have greatly appreciated the input the National Housing Federation have given over the past year, especially as part of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Consultative Panel and I encourage this engagement as we look to deliver the fund over the coming years.” We look forward to building on this in 2022. 

To recap on recent work, toward the end of 2021, we released our guide to decarbonisation and work with Savills on the costs and finance models for our sector.  We also established our decarbonisation hub which is full of regularly updated practical resources and case studies to support you in your journey to net zero and our latest policy analysis, project work and government consultation responses. If you want to stay up to date on our work, be sure to sign up to our brand new newsletter