Net zero for housing is now a real work in progress

25th July 2023

Article originally published in The Intermediary July 2023 – page 29

Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is going to be a huge job, but one that is fundamental to the UK reaching its net zero obligations. Office for National Statistics (OM) data shows that England and Wales both have a median energy efficiency rating of Band D. Getting those homes up to C will be costly and complex to deliver, while still not reaching net zero.

The UK’s housing stock is widely varied in terins of type, age, exposure to environmental risk and construction materials. The need for a comprehensive strategic and nuanced approach is clear.

The latest ONS report shows that flats and maisonettes are currently the most energy efficient property type in both England and Wales, with a median Band C. Social reined dwellings had the highest median energy efficiency score across all property tenures in both England and Wales.

Meaningful improvements

ln both countries, four in five dwellings used mains gas as a primary source for central heating. Knowing this is important, but it’s not especially useful when it comes to meaningfully improving those scores. As it stands, the industry’s only tool to measure a home’s energy efficiency is the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). These are based on data about a building’s energy features – for example, building construction type, heating systems and insulation.

While EPC assessors consider more than too features within each home, there is a growing view that the data quality gathered could be assessed differently. Knowing whether a home is supplied by both gas and electricity, or has a more efficient heating system, is one element of measuring its carbon footprint. However, when it comes to working out what exactly to do about inefficiencies, you need more information. You need details, specifically, on the property’s condition. For that, you need an entirely different approach.

While building surveys can produce this level of detail, storing that data accurately, consistently and in a state that makes it useable is only the beginning.

Digital technology

A recent report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) revealed a serious concern among senior market shareholders that the effort to improve stock was running into difficulties caused by a lack of understanding of the options available to improve energy efficiency.

Several respondents highlighted that housing was a sector where “digital technology can participate in achieving net zero targets and other environmental improvements”. Among the calls for more granular data and information were suggestions that tech should be used to enable a better understanding of energy usage as well as increasing efficiencies. Examples ranged from smart meters linked to demand management systems, to artificial intelligence (AI) powered climate research and carbon capture facilities.

This technology already exists in the commercial sector, with a minority of energy suppliers able to offer flexible tariffs based on spot pricing to allow households to carry out energy hungry tasks when electricity and gas are cheap. In practice, it is deployed to benefit the end user, but its possible to imagine that technology being used to provide a more systemic system for energy supply. This is just part of the puzzle, however.

“digital technology can participate in achieving net zero targets and other environmental improvements”

Redrawing the map

Knowing the destination is one thing, getting there is quite another. If you don’t want to end up stuck down cul-de-sacs, you need a map.

This might mean anything from standard retrofit assessment to an enhanced assessment, which uses the latest virtual and drone technology. Using our system, we are creating an accurate, digital, virtual model of the UK’s housing market. For the first time, lenders can know for certain what property condition risk they carry in their back books, allowing for more accurately targeted, commercially driven incentives to improve energy efficiency within a diverse housing market.

A strategic approach is not only possible, it’s happening.

We recently joined the GFP Decarbonisation Delivery Framework, set up by five housing associations to provide retrofit and consultancy services to support the delivery of decarbonisation works to social housing stocks across the UK.

The aim is to ensure homes achieve at least Band C by 2030, something CoreLogic UK will be central to. We are providing a programme of retrofit assessments, design and coordination services across North England and North Wales, the Midlands and. Mid Wales, as well as Scotland.

Net zero has been a difficult concept for the homing sector so far. Now, we’re on the next leg of the journey.

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