Lori McElroy: Understanding our homes is the starting point for switching to clean heat

Lori McElroy: Understanding our homes is the starting point for switching to clean heat

Lori McElroy

Existing Homes Alliance chair Lori McElroy responds to recent proposals to reform Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs).

Most of us rely on gas and oil boilers to heat our homes, but that reliance is driving the cost of living crisis and adding to the climate crisis.

Public support for switching from fossil fuel boilers is growing - a survey published by WWF Scotland found most people are in favour of action to phase out fossil fuel boilers.

How we heat our homes accounts for around a fifth of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. With impacts of climate change featuring daily in our news, urgent action is needed. By switching to clean heating systems such as heat pumps, we can cut emissions from our homes by about 90%. However, it must be affordable for all.

Across the world, governments are supporting the switch to clean heat. The US Government is encouraging millions of Americans to replace their fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps through tax incentives. European governments are incentivising the same switch, with heat pumps sales soaring - doubling in Belgium and Poland last year, while in Germany they increased by 54%. Around two thirds of homes in Norway already have heat pumps.

We are seeing progress in Scotland, including generous grants and loans through Home Energy Scotland slashing the costs of insulation and heat pumps - but we need to do more.

The Scottish Government has just published proposals to improve Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). EPCs are an important source of information for tenants, homeowners and potential buyers, providing basic information about the energy efficiency of buildings. But in their current form, EPCs are not appropriate for driving the move to zero carbon heating.

The revised EPCs would provide clearer information on energy efficiency, the type of heating system and the cost of heating the home.

This will help homeowners better understand whether their heating is low carbon and how efficient it is. It will also suggest actions to improve energy efficiency, cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce heating bills.

But EPCs are only one part of the jigsaw – we also need clear regulations, so people know what they need to do and by when, scaled up advice and support services so everyone can benefit, and phased in regulations to ensure they are achievable and affordable to all.

Whilst grants and loans help with upfront costs, governments must address ongoing running costs. The UK Government must address the unfair imbalance between gas and electricity costs, making clean heat the more cost-effective solution.

We need good heating system design, smart tariffs and additional technologies such as energy storage to keep running costs low. Support for fuel poor households must be scaled up so no-one is left behind.

The switch to clean heat is already happening at pace in many parts of the world. It is time Scotland got on board.

Lori McElroy is chair of the Existing Homes Alliance - a coalition of housing, environmental, fuel poverty, consumer and industry organisations that believes Scotland’s existing homes must be transformed to help tackle fuel poverty and climate change.

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