Could Thermal Performance Improvements Cut Energy Infrastructure Requirements?

NBT Updates

The Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG), a collaboration of leading industry and trade bodies and consumer groups, think tanks, environmental NGOs and major engineering, energy, construction and insulation businesses, published a report recently asking the Government to adopt an innovative new policy on insulating UK homes.

As a member of the EEIG, NBT by Soprema played a part in developing the research and discussion that resulted in the report, which challenges conventional policy and suggests a radical re-think on how we tackle the problem of energy demand and carbon emissions. The report presents a clear and credible business case for investing in publically-funded upgrades of any homes that fall below band C levels of energy efficiency with an infrastructure programme approach to installing insulation.

 

Why do we need to improve the thermal performance of UK homes?

Government-funded programmes to incentivise homeowners to upgrade the insulation in their homes are nothing new; we have seen some, if limited, improvements in insulation levels for older properties over the past 20 years thanks to such schemes.

At the same time, new build properties are now much more efficient than their predecessors from decades or centuries ago, due to mandatory compliance requirements with part L building regulations.

However, the thermal performance of the UK’s housing stock as a whole remains poor. The UK has some of the oldest and most energy inefficient homes in Europe, accounting for over 20% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Previous insulation funding programmes have failed to tackle the issue with any consistency or significant success.

Part of the reason for this is that previous incentive programmes have only provided partial funding, or have targeted those on low incomes and/or benefits. Moreover, they have not taken account of the fact that not all types of insulation are suitable for all properties. For example, cavity wall insulation incentive schemes are of no benefit to traditionally built ‘solid-walled’ homes, of which we still have over 9,000,000 in the UK.

 

 

How can the improvements be achieved with a different approach?

In order to achieve the goal of all domestic properties achieving a Band C thermal efficiency rating or above, the need to insulate needs to be enshrined in legislation and delivered like any other infrastructure project.

We have already seen this methodology applied to the way we produce energy, with coal powered energy infrastructure being replaced by nuclear, solar and wind energy. There must be a fundamental shift, however, if we’re going to achieve the UK Government’s legally-binding commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Instead of focusing solely on reducing the carbon emissions of the energy we use, we need to explore how we reduce energy demand.

It’s a growing challenge as we become more and more reliant on energy-hungry devices and technology. The Government roll-out of smart meters is designed to help predict energy consumption patterns through data modelling and reduce consumption by making us more aware of energy wastage and its monetary and environmental cost. What we need now is a roll out of insulation improvements to dramatically reduce the need to heat or cool our homes.

Part of the reason that this hasn’t been done in the past is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Previous schemes that have focused on loft insulation and cavity wall insulation have excluded lots of property types, and installing loft insulation alone is akin to wearing a woolly hat but forgetting to put your coat on!

The good news is that, along with a variety of property types, we have a variety of insulation types available in the UK, so a far-reaching programme enabling every householder to insulate their property could make the band C baseline achievable

Indeed, in the Pavatex woodfibre range alone, we have a variety of sustainable, breathable insulation solutions suitable for wrapping properties externally, internal wall insulation and roof build-ups.  We even have vapour permeable insulation suitable for retrofitting in heritage and single-wall properties. Further information on our range of Pavatex woodfibre insulation products is available here: https://www.natural-building.co.uk/products/

 

What will the impact be if the EEIG proposals are adopted?

Improvements in the efficiency of wind and solar power, along with new industrial battery storage capabilities mean that the UK’s ambitious net zero target is achievable if thermal performance improvements and clean energy infrastructure are delivered as a combined strategy.

Bringing all homes up to Band C energy efficiency standards or above would reduce energy demand in homes by a quarter and would enable the UK to avoid energy infrastructure equivalent to five Hinckley Point C nuclear power plants. Consequently, the cost of financing thermal efficiency improvements to both private and public sector homes would be more than offset by the reduced need for energy sector build programmes, while delivering more comfortable homes that are cheaper to run into the bargain.