UK falling behind on energy efficient homes

A report from Imperial College London has found that the UK is falling behind other European countries in efforts to upgrade and decarbonise homes.

The UK government is targeting 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028
The UK government is targeting 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028 - Adobestock

Decarbonising Buildings: Insights From Across Europe was published yesterday (December 14, 2022) by the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial.

Countries including Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands have been rolling out multiple programmes and incentives to reduce residents’ energy consumption and costs.

Sweden currently has the highest number of ground source heat pumps per capita in the world, while Norway is now heating approximately 85 per cent of its buildings using electricity, 92 per cent of which was produced by hydropower, and 6.5 per cent from wind.

In comparison, the report’s authors say the UK government is falling behind in helping people conserve energy, leaving Britons in some of the least efficient housing in Europe, and compounding the energy and cost of living crises.

In a statement, lead author Dr Salvador Acha, from Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering, said: "Studies show the UK's 28.6 million homes are among the least energy efficient in Europe and lose heat up to three times faster than on the continent, making people poorer and colder.

“At a time of increased energy bills and inflation, people in the UK can’t afford to lose energy due to inefficient housing, but unfortunately energy policy in this area has been nil for many years. With the continued climate crisis, and the fact that our homes account for 30 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the planet can’t afford this lack of action either."

The Grantham report comes just two weeks after the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) announced a £1bn grant scheme to help homeowners that have low energy efficiency ratings and are in lower council tax bands, insulate their homes. The scheme has been criticised for not opening until Spring.


Dr Acha added that although the UK government is now taking a step in the right direction, action needs to be taken on a larger scale – if each eligible home claims the maximum grant of £15,000, the new scheme will help around 67,000 homes, which is only 0.25 per cent of the housing stock, he pointed out.

“Insulating the UK’s homes would reduce the amount of energy we need to heat them. Well-insulated homes leave more money in people’s pockets, keep them warm, well and comfortable, and less worried about paying their bills.

“They also reduce our demand on overseas energy sources, strengthening our national energy security. Our research shows that European countries are ahead in crafting innovative policies to reduce energy use and costs, so we know change is possible."

To create more energy efficient homes, the authors recommended that the UK government creates the right conditions that encourage and support people to make their homes more energy efficient; ensures the UK has the skilled workforce needed to upgrade new and older buildings; improves energy certification schemes such as EPCs to ensure they more accurately reflect energy performance and environmental impact; and reduces emissions from heating buildings by replacing fossil-fuelled systems with technologies like electric heat pumps.

The UK government has committed to 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, and to ensure heat pumps are no more expensive to buy and run than gas boilers by 2030. Currently, households are encouraged to replace their gas boilers with air-source heat pumps while benefitting from a £5,000 grant.

The installation of gas boilers in new housing developments is set to be phased out by 2035 and both new and existing homes will have to meet at least EPC band C ratings by 2035.

Dr Acha said that there is a lack of clarity on how businesses will be supported to invest in sufficient skilled labour to make these upgrades.

“I fear that the socio-economic inequality of the country will be reflected in widening the south and north divide in terms of quality housing – a national comprehensive effort is needed to ensure these policies benefit all,” he said.