What does the Heat and Buildings Strategy mean for social housing?

The Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy is a welcome step forward the housing sector, not least because it sees £800m added to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, in addition to Wave 1 which saw £160m added. 

For the NetZero Collective, it is a significant step forward as we progress our work with housing associations and local authorities to retrofit low carbon technologies into homes and monitor their impact, working with the University of Southampton to conduct robust data and research into the most effective low carbon technologies across a range of house types to help inform future investment decisions. 

Greater demand and incentives for low carbon technologies to meet an ever-closer deadline means that research of this type will be even more vital to ensure that the sector invests in the right technologies that will deliver the highest efficiencies for the most affordable costs. 

Heat pumps 

The focus on heat pumps in particular in the strategy is a key move in stimulating the heat pump market, potentially bringing down unit prices and making it a more viable option for developers in building new social homes. However, as demand increases, the existing challenge of securing enough qualified and experience installers will only get worse.  The current slow rate of heat pump installations is already putting strain on the supply chain, so it property services businesses across the country will now need to step up and train heat pump installation engineers, at scale, in order to keep pace with the sector and government incentivisation.   

And, whilst welcome, the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy only scratches the service in terms of the huge investment needed to retrofit the whole of the UK’s social housing stock, which is estimated to cost between £100-£200 billion. 

This means that heat pumps alone are not the solution. We need a wide range of low carbon technologies to achieve net zero, with a combination of measures including solar, battery and heat pumps in addition to building fabric improvements and increased insulation levels. 

NetZero Collective 

The aim of Net Zero Collective is to really understand which technologies will be most effective across a wide range of house types so that we can advise housing associations and local authorities on the right investment decisions that will have the highest impact for them. 

The data generated through the pre-retrofit monitoring is analysed in partnership with the University of Southampton to project annual heat and energy demand for the home, based on its current design, construction and occupancy and run analytics to propose a suite of retrofit measures, aligned to PAS2035, for each individual home which will achieve net zero energy use. 

NetZero Collective will then continue to monitor the homes’ energy use, humidity and temperature following the retrofit works to check whether the projections were accurate, or if additional work or resident education is required, with manual analysis and review continuing for up to three years.

Utilising this research, NetZero Collective are developing a model to allow landlords to analyse their whole asset registers at speed, allowing NetZero Collective to make accurate recommendations for the specification of a PAS2035 retrofit programme, with a fabric first approach. This fabric first approach to decarbonisation aims to minimise energy demand first, before switching the energy source to a zero-carbon source.

Strategy and regulation 

The strongest way that social housing can respond to the challenges of the shift away from gas boilers is to work together to formulate a net zero strategy, with regulation also key – the regulator is required to insist that social housing publishes net zero plans and show what progress is being made annually towards achieving net zero. 

Over the coming years I hope to see the Regulator for Social Housing putting greater emphasis on the need to begin delivering large scale decarbonisation projects, rather than simply having decarbonisation noted as a strategic risk which should be monitored and considered. It is only by working together as a sector that housing associations and local authorities can really rise to the challenge of a low carbon future. Delivering net zero at scale will ultimately bring down the cost and open door to opportunities for community investment and training in the new skills needed to meet the challenge.