Independent networks raise fears over Future Homes Standard: gaps on policy delivery must be filled and impact assessment is needed now

The Independent Networks Association (INA) has warned that government’s plan to ensure new homes will be low carbon is undermined by a lack of joined-up policy delivery and proposed delaying implementation until 2028.
A report by EY for the INA raised a suite of concerns over implementing the Future Homes Standard. They include:
• No impact assessment on the Future Homes Standard will be published until the full technical consultation planned for spring 2023. That might mean early decisions could be counter to best implementation of the standard.
• The new standard says the heating system for new homes must be low-carbon and as ‘low flow temperature’, which means that a traditional gas or hydrogen fuelled boiler with hot water radiators cannot be installed. That is inconsistent with research on hydrogen boilers, now under way, and manufacturers’ commitments to have hydrogen boilers available from 2025.
• In its heating system specification the government has “effectively narrowed the heating technology choice to heat pumps”. It must be careful not to pick a heating technology winner ahead of completing pilot studies on the effectiveness of other heating options.
• The government does not plan to consult on specifications for compliance with the Future Homes Standard until 2023, so housebuilders will not have details on the fabric until close to the current implementation date for the standard in 2025 and that presents problems in building a supply chain. The government risks further delay because legislation underpinning the Future Homes Standard will not be presented to Parliament until 2024.
The report also highlights uncertainties over the heating systems that should be installed in the next few years, saying that the transition from gas to electric heating could increase the connection capacity required for homes from 9kW to around 14kW. Understanding whether this can be done without network reinforcements, by time-shifting demand using smart technology will require time. In addition, the result of hydrogen trials will not be known until after 2025
Nicola Pitts, executive director of the Independent Networks Association (INA), whose members connect most new homes to energy networks and other utilities in the UK, said members were concerned that the government was picking a technology winner for heat when knowledge and understanding of heat pumps amongst consumers is low. She said, “No public awareness and engagement campaign has taken place with consumers so far. It is clear that ‘one size does not fit all’ for consumers and this could lead to a lack of demand for the first homes delivered under this Standard.”
Noting that delivering the Future Homes Standard would require a clear planning framework, timely and ‘right sized’ utility connections, a developed low carbon heating system supply chain and sufficient numbers of skilled fitters, she said, “We need a clear, workable cross-government plan that brings these strands together in a co-ordinated way. The Government needs to commit to delivering certainty at the right time for industry to deliver to the 2025 date.”
“The Government’s current implementation timetable for the Future Homes Standard gives less than a year between full clarity on the policy in 2024 and its implementation in 2025. INA Members have already seen the uncertainty impacting the speed of delivering new housing projects.”

Heat pump supply
The report also pointed out the opportunity of the transition for UK plc. Government’s target to install 600,000 heat pump installations in total per year by 2028, including 300,000 heat pumps in new homes could see a big step up in UK manufacture both of entire heat pumps and major components such as the compressor. UK manufacture would create thousands of skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector, and require 10,000 qualified installers, but is likely to require a targeted support scheme covering start-up grants and other forms of innovation funding.
But the report says urgent action is needed: building a manufacturing facility for heat pumps would take up to three years and training colleges have to put installer programmes in place.
Read the full report EY-Report-on-the-Future-Homes-Standard-June-2021_Final

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