Challenges ahead for net zero targets

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Published: 17 June 2019


The heat pump industry has welcomed the government’s announcement that the UK will become the first major nation to commit to reaching a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050, but warned of significant challenges ahead.

The Heat Pump Association (HPA) says that clear policy and a widespread adoption of ultra low-carbon heating systems are urgently required in order for the target to stand a realistic chance of being met.
The UK already has a 2050 target - to reduce emissions by 80%, which was agreed by MPs under the Climate Change Act in 2008, but it will now be amended to the new, much tougher goal that will demand a big move away from carbon-based heating systems. Despite acknowledging in the past that a major shift to solely heat pumps would be impractical, the HPA is calling on the government to promote wider support for heat pumps, as a technology that is widely understood, and is available now. This means the work towards hitting this new target can begin immediately, without the need to develop new technology.

Graham Wright, chairman of the HPA, said: “We are extremely encouraged by the government’s decision to cut the UK’s emissions to almost zero by 2050, but to achieve this government and industry, collectively, must not take our foot off the gas. What industry needs now are clear signals, with explicit policy and well communicated pathways to low-carbon heating such as heat pumps.

“The industry needs to prepare for increased production and training with a degree of certainty that is only achievable by clear policy and distinct time frames. The technology is widely available, but more structured training is needed to implement it. The HPA is ready to help government raise awareness among installers and customers and is already planning to set up its own training courses in the near future.”

Bean Beanland, chairman of the Ground Source Heat Pump Association, said: “The Government’s commitment is welcome but undoubtedly challenging. Decarbonisation of heat will be essential to deliver the 2050 target, as nearly 70% of heat for homes and businesses is currently produced from natural gas. The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy says that meeting the 2050 emissions target implies decarbonising nearly all heat in buildings and most industrial processes. Reducing the demand for heat through improved energy efficiency will have an important role to play but will not by itself be sufficient to meet the 2050 target.  Reducing emissions from buildings has stalled, and the deployment of low carbon heat is still extremely limited.  We need a credible new strategy and a much stronger policy framework for decarbonising heat over the next three decades.

“Ground source heat pumps have a major part to play. They are a proven, efficient and low carbon technology that can deliver heating to households and businesses at the lowest operating cost. A heat pump deployed today is progressively lower in carbon emissions over its lifecycle as the electricity grid is decarbonised further.

“Existing policies to encourage the take-up of low carbon heating are not delivering change at the required pace and need to change if the 2050 target is to be achieved.  The GSHPA urges Government  to bring in a new support framework for low carbon heating beyond 2021, including a capital grant for the installation of heat pumps, with a target of 1 million installations a year by 2035, and make the energy efficiency retrofit of existing homes a national infrastructure priority.”

Peter Tse, business manager of BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group, said:  “Government has now acted setting out its zero net carbon stall, leading the global challenge by addressing the UK’s carbon footprint with the decision to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), creating a legally binding net-zero carbon target for 2050.

“The task ahead is truly challenging given the UK is currently significantly behind the targets set out in both fourth and fifth carbon budgets. However, it is encouraging to see many businesses already leading the way, with strong commitments and swift progress and a new Net Zero Taskforce launched to support the private sector transition to a net zero carbon future.

BSRIA is at the forefront of this debate with its flagship annual Briefing in London on 15 November 2019 entitled A Climate of Change – how future technology and improved processes could secure energy efficiency and wellbeing.”