Written evidence submitted by the University of Salford (DHH0044)


About us

The University of Salford welcomes the opportunity to provide a written submission to the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee’s inquiry into decarbonising heat in homes.

The University of Salford is a higher education institution in Greater Manchester. With over 20,000 students we are fastest growing university in the north west. Established 50 years ago, but with our roots in the 19th century Royal Technical Institute of Salford, we take an industry-led approach to teaching and research. Our goal is to provide our students with real world experiences that set them up for life and to work with partners to tackle real world social and economic challenges through research and enterprise.

The University has well established regional, national and international expertise in the field of low carbon and energy efficiency. Specific relevant peaks of excellence include: buildings and materials; energy efficiency; electrification of heating and transport; renewables and storage systems; smart systems and controls; fuel poverty and lived experiences of energy use. The research capability at the University of Salford is supported by a number of innovative and world leading research facilities, including Energy House 2.0 which is due to start construction in Autumn 2020 with completion targeted for Autumn 2021.

The University also has expertise in the socio-economic impact of energy policy, through the Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU). Established in 1996, SHUSU is a multidisciplinary research group at the University of Salford that seeks to understand complex social issues and work towards social justice and environmental sustainability within the urban environment. The team is actively engaged in research that highlights the processes, outcomes and impacts of marginalisation on individuals and communities.


Summary of response

Decarbonisation of heat in homes is central to the government achieving its target for the UK to be net carbon zero by 2050. Success in this will involve the following:

This will require a generational shift in infrastructure that needs to be considered in the longer term. It will also require strategic coordinated action to build the infrastructure to drive demand among owner occupiers for energy efficiency products and services.




  1.                   What has been the impact of past and current policies for low carbon heat, and what lessons can be learnt, including examples from devolved administrations and international comparators?

Decarbonisation of heat in homes policy over the past 10 years has been ineffective. Policy in recent decades has been fragmented and stop/start. For example, in 2006 the government was committed to carbon net zero for new housing by 2016, a target that  was pushed back to 2025 by the next government. One of the primary reasons this target was not achieved is that there was no recognition that the move to carbon net zero requires a generational shift in infrastructure that needs to be considered in the longer term.

Policy in this area is split between targeting existing buildings and new builds. With new builds regulatory policy has proven effective. Existing homes are more complex and ultimately more important. There are 23.5 million existing homes in England[1], with only 167,000 new build starts on average over the past two years[2]. The key to decarbonisation of heat in existing homes is increasing the demand for retrofit among homeowners.

Driving demand for retrofit among homeowners will be helped by grant funding, but we cannot solely rely on this. It can only be one part of a range of measures, such as green finance initiatives, improved standards and improved consumer advice.

Social housing providers also have an important role to play. Not only are their tenants often vulnerable and likely to benefit most from lower heating costs and improved thermal comfort, but housing providers present advantages in the role out of new technologies: stock is generally managed consistently as an asset; organisations have programmes of ongoing maintenance and improvements into which new technologies can be inserted; and providers have staff with skills in tenant engagement who can help ensure that tenants understand new technologies and get the best performance out of them. Social housing is therefore a context within which new technologies can be rolled out and achieve a more significant share of the market, although it is of course important that tenants are not treated as genuine pigs with unproven technology and approaches.

The Private Rented Sector (PRS) presents particular challenges resulting from the misaligned incentives whereby the landlord needs to invest in the property and technology, but it is tenants who benefit from lower bills. Consistent targeted action is needed to ensure that this sector, and its tenants, are not left behind in a transition to low carbon heating.

  1.                   What key policies, priorities and timelines should be included in the government’s forthcoming ‘Buildings and Heat Strategy’ to ensure that the UK is on track to deliver Net Zero? What are the most urgent decisions and actions that need to be taken over the course of this Parliament (by 2024)?

By 2024 we need a strategic coordinated action as part of a national infrastructure priority. Part of this will need to a recognition that the retrofitting market is an example of market failure. To address this market failure we need to look at the demand for energy efficiency products amongst owner occupiers as well as supply of products and services. While the UK government, local authorities and institutions have been declaring climate emergencies, homeowners can see no market direction. Any solution must increase demand for retrofitting among homeowners.

The lack of demand shows that conditions are not set for the market to work. To fix this and meet the governments net carbon zero targets will take coordinated action from the government, with a long-term strategy for building the infrastructure to drive demand. To encourage owner occupiers to decarbonise their homes we will need to look beyond regulations on new builds This should involve looking at green finance initiatives to help with costs, improved standards for retrofitting products and services to ensure products are effective and safe, and improved consumer advice to give homeowners confidence.

There is also a need to invest in the supply chain to ensure that there is capacity to meet growth in household interest and to overcome negative views of the industry by reassuring customers that quality work can be delivered.


  1.                   Which technologies are the most viable to deliver the decarbonisation of heating, and what would be the most appropriate mix of technologies across the UK?

The most viable technologies to deliver the decarbonisation of heating in the UK would be the low carbon heating technologies. More specifically this would be air source and ground source heat pumps. These heat pumps would initially be a hydrogen blend before ultimately becoming hydrogen only. The Committee on Climate change report on ‘Hydrogen in a low carbon economy’ backs this up, saying hydrogen is a credible option to help decarbonise the UK energy system as long as the government commits to develop the UK’s industrial capacity[3].

Low carbon heating technologies would have to be allied with improved energy efficiency of homes through retrofitting. It should not be forgotten that reducing demand for heat by making buildings more efficient is one of the most cost effective ways to reduce emissions.


  1.                   What are the barriers to scaling up low carbon heating technologies? What is needed to overcome these barriers?

There are several barriers to scaling up low carbon heating technologies in the UK most of which stem from market failure, such as low service and product standards and a lack of demand among owner occupiers for energy efficiency retrofitting. Owner occupiers account for 15 million homes in the UK[4], so any attempt to decarbonise heat in homes will have to increase their demand for energy efficiency products.

A report by Citizens Advice Bureau into homeowner attitudes to energy efficiency explained that awareness and understanding of available measures (for energy efficiency) is low.[5] The government has indicated its wiliness to support those in fuel poverty, which is clearly a priority. At the same time, it must do more to encourage the willing-to-pay homeowner to invest in their homes. The Citizens Advice Bureau report highlighted several causes of low demand, such as upfront costs, uncertainty about return on investment, difficulty finding reliable and trustworthy tradesmen, complexity of measures and mistrust of energy efficiency providers and their sales practices. Many of these barriers to owner occupier demand stem from poor advice and a lack of information, suggesting this could be overcome with improved consumer advice and improved consumer protection measures such as technical and skill standards for retrofitting and energy efficiency home improvements.


  1.                   How can the costs of decarbonising heat be distributed fairly across consumers, taxpayers, business and government, taking account of the fuel poor and communities affected by the transition? What is the impact of the existing distribution of environmental levies across electricity, gas and fuel bills on drivers for switching to low carbon heating, and should this distribution be reviewed?

The cost of decarbonising heat must be shared fairly across individuals and society, but the balance of that distribution needs to encourage better take up of low carbon heating. The government should provide the initial funding that can then leverage in personal investment from individual consumers, with the Green Homes Grant being a good example of this. Government grant funding should also be better targeted at the fuel poor, ensuring a progressive approach to the distribution of costs. The funding should also be structured in such a way as to give the supply chain confidence to scale up its operations – short term funds do not do this and can lead to a perpetuation of a boom-and-bust cycle in which firms have difficulty establishing themselves and developing a quality offer.

Other specific examples of initiatives that can ensure the sharing of costs include: the reduction of VAT on energy efficiency improvements; the reintroduction of consequential improvements; and the flipping of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) from the energy suppliers to the network operators. The reduction of VAT would lower the cost of improvements such as adoption of low carbon heating for individual consumers and, alongside schemes such as the Green Homes Grant, make proactive energy efficiency improvements cheaper and more attractive. The reintroduction of consequential improvements would require homeowners to upgrade their properties, helping to address the issue of poor energy efficiency of existing housing stock. And changing the ECO system would change the emphasis of the policy from trying to encourage energy suppliers – who have little inclination to reduce the consumption of energy amongst consumers – to the network operations – who have a greater motivation to do so to reduce demand on their networks.


  1.                   What incentives and regulatory measures should be employed to encourage and ensure households take up low carbon heat, and how will these need to vary for different household types?

The government’s recently announced Green Homes Grant provides incentives for the take up of low carbon heat by way of financial support for two thirds of the cost of improvements up to a limit of £5,000. Any funding to support decarbonisation is of course welcome, but the Green Homes Grant alone will by no means be sufficient to account for the significant market failure that has been seen in the adoption of low carbon heating in domestic properties and its roll out does not take into account the issues in the market nor seek to address these issues.

Moreover, this scheme focusses on quantity rather than quality. At present, the market can react to the Green Homes Grant, with benefit going to firms that are able to roll out sales and marketing teams at pace to secure customers, with little assurance around quality and outcomes for the consumer, nor for the widen national carbon reduction targets. Any funding that seeks to incentivise the take up of low carbon heating should have a qualitative assessment attached that measures the impact of the grant in terms of carbon saved, rather than focusing on units installed.

The energy efficiency of new homes is enforced through building regulations, but there is currently no enforcement around energy standards in existing homes. Energy Performance Certificate (EPCs) are required before anyone can sell their home, but there is no action attached to a low rating on an EPC. The UK housing stock includes too many poor quality, energy inefficient properties and failure to address this issue will continue to hold back the UK’s ability to meet its net zero carbon ambitions. The think tank Policy Exchange has previously suggested that energy efficiency of homes should be linked to stamp duty and mortgage affordability tests.[6] This incentivises the buyer to purchase a more environmentally friendly home but does not place any requirement on the seller to make improvements. Greater enforcement of the energy standards of existing homes, i.e. requiring improvements before sale rather than simply encouraging the purchasing energy efficient properties and hoping the market will drive improvements amongst sellers, could be considered.

Other incentives to encourage adoption of low carbon heating that could be explored are around taxation. Council tax, for instance, could be reformed to incentivise energy efficiency rather than being based solely on property value. This has been explored by organisations such as the UK Green Building Council and the Energy Saving Trust, although the latter acknowledged that this would likely penalise the fuel poor as households experiencing fuel poverty are more likely to be in properties that are the least energy efficient.[7] Linking local tax – council tax – and energy efficiency has already been put into practice in some areas, with a number of councils in England between 2003 and 2004 and councils in Scotland (following the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009) offering council tax rebates or discounts to residents who installed energy efficiency measures.


  1.                   What action is required to ensure that households are engaged, informed, supported and protected during the transition to low carbon heat, including measures to minimise disruption in homes and to maintain consumer choice?

At present there is very little being done to ensure that households are engaged, informed, supported and protected during this transition. In Scotland, the regional energy advice services offer free home visits and provide much needed to support to households, but this is not replicated in England. To secure the scale of take up of low carbon heating that is required, a mass public information campaign needs to be rolled out alongside a nationally coordinated energy advisory service with regional centres that can provide a one-stop-shop for people to access information and guidance on the low carbon heating market. This service would be staffed by impartial specialist professionals and it would include support to access funding, advice and support around suppliers, and preferred suppliers that offer protection to consumers. Research[8] has shown the importance of effective resident engagement in ensuring that energy and carbon targets are realised: where handover has been ineffective or incomplete, there is a risk that households adopt usage patterns that do not achieve the envisaged savings.


  1.                   Where should responsibility lie for the governance, coordination and delivery of low carbon heating? What will these organisations need in order to deliver such responsibilities?

The responsibility – and funding – for the delivery of low carbon heating needs to be devolved to the city region level. Places like Greater Manchester, where there is a city region combined authority and directly elected mayor are well positioned to take ownership of this agenda and drive delivery.

The Greater Manchester Energy Innovation Agency has just been launched to drive the city region’s ambitions to be net zero carbon neutral by 2038. Bringing together universities, industry and the combined authority, the Energy Innovation Agency will bride the innovation gap, leading to an acceleration of emissions reductions, increased implementation of technological innovations and enhanced, forward thinking policy agenda setting.

November 2020



[1] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government – English Housing Survey Headline Report, 2018/19


[2] Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – House building; new build dwellings, England: June Quarter 2019 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/835887/House_Building_Release_June_2019.pdf

[3] Climate Change Commission – Hydrogen in a low carbon economy


[4] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government – English Housing Survey Headline Report, 2018/19


[5] Citizens Advice Bureau Energising Homeowners


[6] Policy Exchange, March 2016, Energy Efficient Policy – How to encourage improvements in domestic energy efficiency, https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/efficient-energy-policy.pdf

[7] Energy Saving Trust, August 2015, Energy Efficiency and Local Taxation - A paper for the Commission on Local Tax Reform, https://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/Paper%20for%20Commission%20on%20Local%20Tax%20Reform_11August15.pdf

[8] http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/58706