The Heat and Energy Saving Strategy for existing housing stock is set to take centre stage in the government’s plans for an 80% reduction in overall carbon emissions by 2050. Tracy Edwards takes a look at some of the draft proposals

The government has entered the consultation phase of its new Heat and Energy Saving Strategy, which focuses predominantly on the domestic sector and small businesses.

During the launch, however, it seemed that the same comment was on everyone’s lips: we’ve already had abundant discussions on reducing emissions within the zero-carbon homes draft, so do we really need another consultation?

This time round, though, they’re covering new, or perhaps more accurately, old, territory. The heat and energy draft, after all, centres on existing housing stock. If the government is going to achieve the ambitious target of an 80% reduction in overall carbon emissions by 2050, this is a sharp move. More than 70% of the houses now standing will still be in use when we reach the deadline.

Catching up

Initiatives such as district heating schemes and up-front finance for current home owners who switch to renewables are finally being brought to the foreground. Many of the schemes might be considered a tad overdue, seeing as domestic heat use accounts for around a quarter of the UK’s total CO2 emissions.

The government is starting with the basics and aims to supply cavity wall and loft insulation for all suitable properties by 2015.

On a more ambitious level, it plans to provide whole-house energy makeovers involving a broad range of energy-efficient and low-carbon measures to seven million homes by 2020.

Energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband unveiled the plans, referring to the comprehensive national strategy as “the Great British Refurb”.

Renewable Heat Incentive

Cost incentives designed to encourage households to install renewable technologies such as solar panels, ground and air-source heat pumps and biomass boilers will be debated during the consultation.

A levy on fossil fuel providers would help with up-front installation costs, the remainder would be paid back through a percentage of the savings on energy bills. Payments would be made by whoever resides in the property to alleviate pressure on existing residents who may wish to move in future.

Discussions are also under way on the structure and banding of a new Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which would provide subsidies for any supplier of renewable heat or renewable fuel used for heating purposes. Unlike the electricity feed-in tariff, the RHI would be available at all scales, from households to large industrial facilities.


Many of the proposed new measures, such as the financial packages planned for home owners, may also be expanded to help businesses - in particular SMEs.

Other avenues to explore will include working with the construction industry to design a voluntary code of practice on low-carbon energy, and establishing an accreditation scheme for installers.

The government is encouraging new proposals during what Miliband describes as “an open consultation, during which we are keen to hear from businesses as well as households”.

Visit before 8 May to have your say.

Strategy objectives:

  • Ensure that carbon-pricing mechanisms provide sufficient support to CHP.
  • Develop and expand district heating.
  • Work with the construction industry to design an energy efficiency code of practice.
  • Establish an accreditation scheme for installers.
  • Introduce new financial packages to help homeowners with up-front renewables costs.
  • Provide cavity wall and loft insulation for all suitable properties by 2015.
  • Guarantee all homes have access to whole-house improvement by 2030.
  • Provide a home energy advice service.
  • Make compulsory smart meter installation.
  • Roll out low-cost energy audits.

1 District heating schemes

The Heat and Energy Saving Strategy projects a strong community focus. Consultation feedback is set to play a vital role in plans for wide-scale district heating for both homes and businesses. The draft plan looks into tackling key barriers to district heating, such as enhancing the role of local authorities and improving the supply chain. A government study has concluded that the most economically viable district heating schemes would feature a high proportion of flats rather than houses.

2 Smart meters

Self-monitoring methods are to be given greater consideration within the Heat and Energy Saving Strategy. The consultation package discusses the possibilities of mandatory smart meters and low-cost energy audits.

3 Combined heat and power (CHP)

The consultation focuses strongly on CHP, which can improve energy efficiency by over 30%. The technology, which utilises waste heat produced during the generation of electricity, provided over 7% of UK electricity in 2008 and saved 10.2 MtCO2. CHP is already supported by policies such as the Renewables Obligation, which requires electricity providers to source an annually increasing percentage of the electricity they supply from renewable sources. The new strategy will concentrate on ensuring that this range of price mechanisms provides sufficient support to CHP.

4 Heat pumps

For isolated domestic use, air-source heat pumps clearly present an advantage over ground-source heat pumps because they require less space to install. However, the consultation is also examining how a single ground-source pump could be shared among a group of houses, or introduced to power a block of apartments. All heat pumps require electricity, but typically, heat pumps provide three or four times as much heat as the electricity they use.

5 Solar water heating

Solar water heating systems will typically meet half of a house’s hot water needs over the year. The average domestic system reduces C02 by around 325 kg per annum.

6 Biomass

A domestic wood-powered biomass boiler can save six tonnes of CO2 per year. Currently, around 5 GW of UK energy is generated through biomass. The government aims to increase this to over 35 GW by 2020.

Overhauls do not happen overnight, and one advantage to CHP is that homeowners and businesses can start out using fossil fuels to power the systems and then switch to biomass in the future.