Action needed to decarbonise social housing

Around 5.5mn socially rented homes must be decarbonised to meet net zero, yet there are key challenges stifling action, a report has found.

On 30 March, the Energy Systems Catapult published research, exploring the drivers and challenges for social housing providers meeting net zero, while drawing on potential opportunities for Smart Local Energy System (SLES) services in helping them to achieve their targets. A growing number of Registered Providers of social housing are considering how to deliver net zero within their estates – 74% according to the National Housing Federation – but there is currently no legislation that requires them to act on decarbonisation, along with barriers that are restricting or delaying progress.

These barriers include a lack of a consistent definition, or interpretation, of what net zero means for RPs; current net zero targets being based on EPC ratings, which do not represent the benefits of low carbon technologies; the quality and availability of data required to assess suitable decarbonisation steps; and a lack of clarity when it comes to understanding the technical solutions available and how to combine them to achieve net zero.

It also cited a lack of evidence on how technical solutions and innovative services may impact other priorities, the limited availability of financing and funding for RPs, and difficulty accessing the skills and supply chain required to deliver work at scale and to the quality required as key challenges restricting or delaying progress.

SLES developers have a significant role to play in decarbonising social housing, though their offering must work for both RPs and tenants. It made a series of recommendations for them, including considering how to incorporate additional services that would create the greatest value to RPs; demonstrating business models and services for customers by using platforms such as the Living Lab; clearly communicate how products and services can work as part of a wider system and deliver benefits that align with the needs of tenants and RPs in a range of scenarios; and develop a tenant engagement plan or marketing strategy at an early stage in a bid to support RPs with the rollout.

As for RPs, the report called for them to consider how Energy Company Obligation (ECO) innovation funding could be used to support the delivery of innovative SLES measures. It also suggested deducing appropriate procurement routes for SLES projects, working with the local supply chain to achieve quality standards locally, and using the data that is available to consider potential net zero pathways, aligning with local energy strategies.

It also made recommendations for government, such as providing clarification on the definition of net zero, allowing the RPs sector to understand and evaluate their strategies; targeting funding towards net zero outcomes, instead of building fabric improvements or specific technologies; and supporting skills development for the rollout of SLES projects and programmes and developing quality standards across the industry.