The UK today unveiled its Clean Growth Strategy, which aims to cut residential, industrial, transport and power sector greenhouse gas emissions while boosting economic growth.

According to the plan issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the UK “will need to drive a significant acceleration in the pace of decarbonization” in order to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets (covering the period between 2023 and 2032). 

To drive energy efficiency, the government aims to invest around £162m in research and innovation in energy, resource and process efficiency, including up to £20m to encourage switching to lower carbon fuels. To improve residential energy efficiency, it aims to support around £3.6bn of investment to upgrade around 1 million homes through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), and extend support for home energy efficiency improvements until 2028.

BEIS also aims to decarbonize the heating sector through building and extending heat networks across the country, underpinned with public funding to 2021, and phasing out the installation of fossil fuel heating in new and existing homes currently off the gas grid during the 2020s, starting with new build. In addition, the Strategy aims to “reform” the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), although no details were given aside from a planned spend amount of £4.5bn to support low carbon heat technologies in homes and businesses between 2016 and 2021.

Another goal is improving standards for the 1.2 million new boilers installed every year in England and requiring installation of energy-saving control devices. In addition, £184m – including two new £10m innovation programmes – will be spent to develop new residential energy efficiency and heating technologies.

Andy Bradley, Director of Business Development at energy consultancy Delta-ee, said the government’s low-carbon heating plan “shows a total lack of ambition”.

“A lot of the policies are tweaks to pre-existing ones or things likely to happen on their own anyway,” he added.

On the plan to extend the nation’s heat networks, he said: “We’ve been talking about that for donkey’s years. Phasing out high-carbon fossil fuel heating for homes off the gas-grid? It sounds nice but it’s a tiny part of the problem – and anyway a lot of people on oil heating are looking for alternatives already.”  

“The ambitions for new boilers and control systems are sensible enough, but the far bigger win would have been retrofitting and replacing the eight or nine million inefficient boilers already out there,” he noted. “Old, open-cycle boilers are running at about 60 per cent efficiency; upgrading to new condensing models or next generation technologies would make a far bigger dent in emissions. A meaningful scrappage scheme is the open goal that’s been missed here.”

As for the Renewable Heat Incentive, it “obviously needed some reform, but we’re only talking about up to 2021. What happens after?”

Association for Decentralised Energy director Tim Rotheray was more positive, saying the trade group welcomed the government’s “recognition and commitment to decarbonizing heat as a method to meet our carbon reduction goals” and was “delighted to see ongoing support for the use of heat networks as a means to decarbonize heat-dense areas”.  

“The UK is poised to create a low-carbon, competitive economy, and combined heat and power, demand response and energy efficiency all have important roles to play,” he said. “With commitments to deliver the smart energy plan and new industrial energy efficiency investments, alongside a potential for £6bn in energy savings, businesses and investors will have increased confidence to invest in new measures to help improve their competitiveness and meet our carbon goals.”

The ADE also welcomed the plan’s commitment to follow the recommendations of its Heat Network Task Force with the aim of creating “an effective long-term market framework for the sector beyond 2020”.

According to BEIS, the UK has already “outperformed” the emissions reductions targeted in its first (2008-2012) carbon budget by 1 per cent. BEIS predicts that future emissions will similarly come in under the second and third carbon budgets (2013-2022) by 5 and 4 per cent respectively.

However, contra BEIS, the ADE noted that, under current policies, the UK is set to miss its targets for the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. According to the group, “current renewable and energy efficiency policies are only able to take the UK around half way towards the cost effective path to decarbonization, and far behind many of its European peers, leaving a significant policy gap.”