Decarbonising social housing through funding, regulations and technology

Social housing makes up 17% of all housing in the UK, meaning social landlords have responsibility for decarbonising a significant proportion of housing stock. To reach the UK’s target of net zero by 2050, energy efficiency improvements will be required in 4.1m social housing properties.

Upgrading the energy efficiency of social housing will help the UK move towards net zero and can also bring significant benefits for social tenants. Social housing is some of the least energy efficient in the UK, meaning tenants spend more to heat and power their homes. 17.3% of social housing tenants are in fuel poverty, including low income and vulnerable residents. Improving the energy efficiency of social housing can help reduce bills and lift these households out of fuel poverty.

Energy efficiency standards for social housing across the UK

Across the UK, different energy efficiency standards are in place for social housing. In England, social housing must reach an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C or above by 2030, and net zero by 2050. The Scottish Government’s Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing set a target for all homes to reach EPC B by the end of December 2035, and net zero emissions by 2045.

In Wales, the current net zero target is 2050 but the Welsh Government has completed a consultation on a new Welsh Housing Quality Standard 2023. This proposes ambitious targets for all social housing to reach EPC A by 2033, with exceptions for properties where this isn’t physically practical, and suggests no new gas boilers should be installed in social housing from 2026 onwards.

Reaching these standards will significantly reduce carbon emissions and could prove transformational for tenants who should benefit from homes which are more comfortable and cheaper to heat. Improving energy efficiency can also contribute towards other regulatory requirements for social landlords such as boosting tenant satisfaction, which all landlords now need to collect data on.

Challenges and solutions to decarbonising social housing

Although meeting energy efficiency standards will bring significant benefits, this also presents challenges for landlords. 58% of respondents to the recent Housing Sector Survey said financial capacity is the biggest barrier to making energy efficiency improvements. Technical limitations of properties and supply chain issues were also cited as barriers.

Solutions to these problems do exist. There is funding available to help social landlords make improvements and experts advise that comparing the total lifetime cost of a current and replacement heating system, for example, can help make the case for investment in energy efficiency measures.

Because social housing includes a variety of house types, it is unlikely that one technology will fit all properties. However, the wide range of energy efficiency technologies on the market means there is a solution for most homes. Heat pumps are technically suitable for all properties and can significantly decarbonise heating, with estimates suggesting heat pumps will need to be installed in up to 80% of homes to reach net zero.

Ground source heat pumps can be a solution in homes which don’t have the outside space for an air source heat pump, with shared ground loops being suitable even for flats in tower blocks. Heat pumps are usually paired with a hot water cylinder, but for homes where space is a challenge, Sunamp Thermino batteries are a super-compact and efficient option which can also pair with other renewables systems like solar PV.

Funding for energy efficiency improvements

In addition to private funding from lenders and investors, various government funding schemes exist to help social landlords improve their housing stock and meet these energy efficiency standards.

Social landlords in Scotland can apply for the Social Housing Net Zero Heat Fund, a £200m funding pot which is available over the next 5 years to help social landlords reach net zero by 2045. The funding can be used to install zero emissions heating systems and energy efficiency improvements, with grants available for up to 45-50% of project costs.

Another option is the District Heating Loan Fund, which provides low interest loans of up to £500k for district heating projects by registered social landlords, local authorities and SMEs. District heating can be a good option for groups of social housing properties, as shown by the Heatshare project which created a low-carbon smart district heating system for 36 retirement homes in Midlothian, pairing communal boilers and heat pumps with a Sunamp thermal storage battery in each home.

In Wales, the Optimised Retrofit Programme is open to registered social landlords and local authorities to help install decarbonisation measures in existing housing stock. £13m funding has already been awarded to a consortium of 68 partners, including 26 social housing providers, to retrofit over 1,724 homes.

In England, the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund is open to social housing providers, local authorities and charities to help upgrade homes with energy efficiency improvements. The UK Government has committed £3.8bn to the fund over a 10-year period, to help reach net zero by 2050. £1.4bn has already been awarded, with a new focus on low carbon heating in Wave 2.1.

Funding is also available for social housing tenants in England, Scotland and Wales through the Energy Company Obligation. This funding is available through energy suppliers for people who live in social housing, or live in private housing and claim certain benefits, to help with the cost of insulation or boiler repair or replacement.

How heat storage can help create energy efficient social housing

Thermal storage solutions, such as Sunamp Thermino heat batteries, can help social landlords to decarbonise hot water and meet energy efficiency standards. The systems are up to four times smaller than the equivalent hot water cylinder because they’re filled with an energy-dense phase change material, freeing up valuable storage space for social housing residents. High-performance insulation means the batteries have low heat losses, and they can reduce running costs and energy consumption by charging when electricity is cheaper and releasing the heat when needed.

Thermino batteries are also quick to install without disruption to tenants, which is helpful when responding to the availability of government funding. Gentoo Group housing association replaced gas boilers in 364 high-rise social housing flats in Sunderland without needing to decant residents. A heat pump integrated system and Thermino battery was installed in each home, helping cut carbon emissions by nearly 70% a year.

The systems are compatible with a range of energy sources, including grid electricity, gas boilers, solar PV and heat pumps. This makes them a great future-proof solution for social landlords who are currently working towards EPC C but will need to make further improvements to reach net zero.

Want to find out more?

Sunamp’s specification team is ready to help. Get in touch to see how Thermino heat batteries can help social landlords reach net zero goals.

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