Survey: Energy professionals believe retrofitting is key to a green Covid-19 recovery
A survey of 350 UK-based energy professionals has found that 80% want the majority of the UK's Covid-19 recovery package funnelled into 'green' industries, with energy efficiency retrofits for housing cited as the most popular route to both economic recovery and net-zero.
Conducted by the Energy Institute (EI), the Energy Barometer 2020 asked energy professionals for their opinion on how businesses and policymakers are approaching the net-zero transition, and how their ambitions and actions are likely to be impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.
Opinion was divided on how, precisely, the pandemic would affect the green economy. 38% said the transition to net-zero will, overall, be spurred post-crisis, while 33% said the converse was true. The remainder argued that the fate of the “new normal”, in terms of decarbonisation, lies predominantly at the feet of policymakers who have not yet formulated full recovery plans.
This sentiment does not exist in isolation but is rather the result of an ongoing lack of confidence in policymakers, the EI claims. 70% of respondents said the Government was not doing enough to decarbonise energy systems beyond electricity generation pre-Covid-19, with particular concerns voiced around energy efficiency, heat and transport. As such, nine in ten respondents believe that the UK will not meet its 2050 net-zero target in a “business-as-usual” scenario.
In order to change this trajectory, the respondents broadly agreed that Ministers should implement the recommendations made by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in its recent progress report to Parliament and its briefing on principles for a green and resilient recovery. Four-fifths agree with the entirety of the Committee’s recommendations.
Support for the CCC’s recommendations on driving energy efficiency in the built environment – specifically in the domestic space - was found to be particularly pronounced. The Committee has repeatedly highlighted sluggish progress towards decarbonising Britain’s existing housing stock and EI respondents have taken note, with domestic energy efficiency cited in the survey as the “biggest missed opportunity of the last decade”. More respondents singled out retrofits for existing housing stock than any other action for a resilient, jobs-rich recovery.
Other areas in which respondents frequently called for “urgent” policy decisions and financial support include low-carbon heat; carbon capture and storage (CCS); low-carbon aviation fuels and electric aircraft; and low-carbon heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). Increased R&D funding in these spaces, as well as for green hydrogen, was repeatedly urged.
“There is sound advice here for ministers looking to stimulate Britain’s economy in a way that averts future risk; most immediately, the economic, environmental and social co-benefits of upgrading our existing housing stock have never been clearer,” UK Energy Research Centre director Dr Robert Gross said.
“But [we can’t] afford to delay bold decisions on low-carbon heat and transport which are essential for the trajectory to net-zero.”
Summer Economic Update
The publication of the barometer results comes at a crucial juncture for the UK’s green recovery; Chancellor Rishi Sunak will today (8 July) deliver the Summer Economic Update, the much-anticipated follow-up to Boris Johnson’s recovery package speech.
The Treasury is reportedly planning to ring-fence £3bn to create thousands of "green-collar" jobs, improve energy efficiency and conserve natural resources. Of the package, up to £2bn will be issued as grants, with the remaining £1bn set to comprise of subsidies and loans.
The largest single project within the portfolio will be a £1bn commitment to decarbonising public sector buildings, like schools and hospitals, as well as social housing, through retrofitting.
A further £50m will be used to trial early-stage technologies, such as heat pumps, in the social rented homes considered England’s least energy-efficient.
UKGBC’s chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said the measures are a “welcome first step” but that further support is needed to ensure the funding foes not create a “boom and bust” in the UK’s energy efficiency industry.
She said: “That will only happen if policies are put in place that will build business confidence, upskill tradespeople and grow capacity in the retrofit market. The quality of the upgrade work must also be put at the forefront of the Government’s approach, with measures in place to ensure work is carried out to the highest technical standards by qualified installers.”