Last month saw the closing date for a Welsh Government consultation on the next steps for heat decarbonisation in various buildings. Over 85% of Welsh homes use fossil fuel heating so low-carbon solutions are the priority in this draft strategy. Approx. 19% homes (277,000) are off the gas main grid. The document gives a commitment to rural homes to overcome the financial barriers to pay for low-carbon heating. Brett Amphlett (BMF Policy & Public Affairs’ Manager) explains the implications and some views given to Julie James MS, the Minister for Climate Change.

The Proposals
Heat pumps, direct electric, biomass & solar thermal are preferred under this draft strategy. Publicly funded support such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and Warm Homes Programme are mentioned – as is the Optimised Retrofit Programme for ‘whole house retrofitting’ in social housing. Ministers will consult on banning fossil fuel heating in new build – and in existing dwellings at the point of replacement – perhaps to come into force sometime between 2025 and 2035.

Improving energy efficiency of Welsh businesses is a critical objective in decarbonising heat. Ministers want to encourage SMEs to adopt energy-efficient practices – and are offering financial support & guidance to help employers understand the benefits to their businesses. There is an intriguing proposal on the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) for commercial buildings. It is currently unlawful to let or rent property that does not meet the minimum EPC rating of E. This document proposes to increase this to EPC Band C in 2028 and Band B in 2031.
If you wish to read the full consultation, the 91-page document is here, although this consultation closed on 8 November: www.gov.wales/heat-strategy-wales

Our Response
Overall, the BMF can agree with the central thrust of the proposals but urged the Welsh Government not to be dogmatic on which source is best. Heat pumps and heat networks are logical so long as they are affordable and systems are well-designed to avoid overheating. But ministers must not become obsessed with heat pumps because other solutions are available. Hydrogen to replace natural gas, and direct electric heating from renewable sources, will suit different situations. We recommended taking an agnostic approach and for ministers to press for more of everything that helps to get to net zero heating by 2050.

People
We reminded the Welsh Government not to forget that heating is all about people. Efforts to eliminate or reduce carbon from heating is a joint government & business endeavour that involves people. Yet the enormity of the capability, capacity & competence of the workforce needed to decarbonise buildings and electrify heating does not appear to be sufficiently well understood in government – either in Cardiff or London.

Implementation
The guiding principle is that a ‘whole house’ approach of multiple actions, done properly, at the same time, is much better than ‘measures-based’ schemes that (inevitably) lead to under-performing, sub-standard work and unhappy customers. The BMF acknowledges the Welsh Government is doing good things. For example: its Optimised RetroFit programme that some of our members have participated in and who support through their merchant branches.

The BMF regards it as essential if this strategy is to succeed to have a taxpayer-funded public awareness campaign – like the 2010 Digital TV Switchover campaign – to explain (for example) the best first step to decarbonise is to have your home insulated properly before fitting a heat pump.

Workforce
Employers have a crucial role in developing the necessary skills and competencies required. Many of the in-demand occupations or shortages are in low- or zero-carbon employment. But we reminded ministers that there are actions that government and only government can do – notably in state education – and in the allocation of public funding to higher & further education.

The BMF ‘asks’ are for the Welsh Government to:
improve careers advice arrangements to overcome inbuilt bias against further education (to take vocational training) rather than higher education (to take a university degree).
improve the prestige and importance of apprentices with a sharper focus on encouraging young people and older workers to learn the low- or zero-carbon skills that Wales needs.

Summary
Tightening various regulations is the easy, obvious method. If so, better & smarter regulation is needed if government wants to take citizens along with it. Put another way, doing it with the people, rather than doing it to the people. But well-designed, targeted taxpayer-funded incentives are necessary to transform markets, improve installer skills and secure behavioural change.
We ended by describing how BMF members are already aligning their businesses to prepare for life after fossil fuels. For example: by opening dedicated local training centres, with working demonstration heat pumps, to boost the number and competency of much-needed installers. Let’s see what happens next.