3 minute read time.

With the backdrop of high energy prices, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), ably supported by colleagues from the University of Strathclyde, invited politicians of all hues to discuss this topical question on 21 February 2023.

Patrick Harvie, Holyrood Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, and a panel of MSPs were keen to air their views on how to resolve an issue that’s foremost in the minds of many people across Scotland.

In a keynote speech Patrick acknowledged the scale of the challenge to hit ambitious climate targets, and highlighted the £1.8bn investment in green heat and energy efficiency by the Scottish Government to stimulate the market. He estimated that it would cost £33bn to make all Scottish domestic homes net zero by 2045.  It’s a daunting figure and task, that can only be resolved with collaboration and ambition.  But the challenge is also an opportunity to create high quality homes and skilled jobs.

Hannah Corbett (University of Strathclyde) emphasized the societal and public policy nature of the challenge.  Who pays and who benefits are clear questions without clear answers.  Decarbonising 1 million homes by 2030 requires policy commitments by both the UK and Scottish governments to investment and long-term action.

Nick Kelly (University of Strathclyde) described how technology can shift fossil fuel dependency to green delivery.  The figures are challenging: how can we replace 1.75m boilers and achieve Band B SAP ratings by 2045?  Let’s start with ‘fabric first’ – insulation to reduce fuel requirements - before we look at heat pumps.  And locally we need to develop zero-carbon heat networks to replace current gas-fuelled systems.  Yes, we have the technology, but it needs a package of complementary measures to achieve this rapidly, with higher quality and lower costs.

Richard Miller (IET Built Environment Panel) reiterated the need to deliver energy-efficient, reliable net zero homes.  So what should government do?  Get commitment across the political spectrum to clear, outcome-oriented targets and stick to them.  This will give industry the confidence to invest and deliver at scale to PAS2035 quality standards to make retrofit attractive to consumers.  This brings more than energy savings; it also tackles personal health and well-being.  It can be a win-win-win for society, industry and government.

As Chair of the panel of MSPs Ariane Burgess (Green) highlighted the usefulness of the briefing, whilst emphasizing the need to move faster, get traction and pull people out of fuel poverty.

Fiona Hyslop (SNP) stressed the need for cross-party buy-in, to set the course and stick to it. This involved local government and partners, and innovative finance solutions.  The potential of wind technology should be maximised, providing both energy supply and security.

Edward Mountain (Cons) noted the financial challenges for both local government and individuals.  Furthermore, the EPC system needed refining to make it fit for purpose; all new houses should meet retrofit standards; and people needed engaging so they saw benefits from their home investments.

Monica Lennon (Lab) focused on the need for political will to provide confidence through certainty and to invest in skills to achieve delivery targets.  In this respect it was important to listen to engineers.

It was reassuring that the Q&A that followed showed broad agreement amongst panellists over:

  • The scale up of supply chains to drive down costs;
  • The need for co-ordinated national and regional government collaboration with industry to motivate long-term supply chain development and investment into skilled labour at all levels;
  • Financial incentives for improvements by individuals, whether via tax incentives or grants;
  • Learning from others, tailoring proven international models for UK use;
  • The creation a one-stop-shop process to support and give confidence to consumers.

 It’s clear that net zero technology is available to heat homes effectively.  A commitment to long-term consistent government policy commitment will provide industry with the confidence to invest, to increase supply, lower costs and help incentivise consumers.  Yes, innovative financial models are certainly needed.  But this is an opportunity at national, local and individual levels.  It’s now time to deliver.

But what else can politicians, industry, academia and the public do to speed up the delivery of net zero housing?  How can the ‘householder paying and society gaining’ dilemma around retrofit be resolved? Should the discussion focus more on net zero opportunities rather than just its challenges?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or email me at policy@theiet.org

Further information on delivering net-zero homes is included in the IET’s recent article in The House magazine, with more details being published soon.

  • You're in the same boat as me  I'm in a small 150 year old Victorian house too. Thankfully the last owners did a big refurb and added stud walls and interior insulation on the side walls and the extension to the back has cavity wall insulation but my front wall is just solid brick. It is freezing in the winter and roasting hot in the summer. The front door opens to the public footpath (no front garden) so no option to add anything to the exterior and to add extra insulation to the interior would not only be expensive in having to re-fit windows, doors, sockets, light switches, heating pipes, radiators and built in cupboards etc but would also decrease the size of my already tiny front living room but also look really ugly. 

    The only option is to demolish it and build new... Now if the government would pay me to do that I may consider it.... Wink

  • Sorry, forum page published prematurely.... wrap up is, has anyone got reasonably cost effective solutions for this not uncommon form of UK properties.

  • I've seen lots of interesting and hopeful stuff on this. But I get the impression that almost universally the prosetylisers live in detached houses with a driveway and garden. How about a solution for my Victorian terrace? No garden to speak of. Street aesthetics mean nothing more than a few small solar panels on that S roof, which can only benefit the first floor flat, not the ground floor. Street aesthetics and a typical very shallow roof overhang prohibit external insulation. At the rear, nowhere to put an air source HP other than on a bedroom wall by a bedroom window. Shallow roof overhangs to my thinking prohibits external wall insulation (a 10 year guarantee being wildly inadequate in my view given the disaster a top leak would be). Small room sizes make internal insulation only partially feasible. Oh, and the EPC assessment tools are rigid and totally not on-message (recommended gas or oil GFCH).