New homes standard could well be watered down with hydrogen greenwash and no support for solar panels

Gas industry lobbyists are working hard to water down the Government’s commitment to ban fossil fuel boilers in new homes from 2026, and there are signs they might win their battle. Not only that, but it looks like there will be no encouragement to install solar panels as a means of achieving carbon emission reductions. The new building regulations are supposed to be unveiled in 2024 (and implemented in 2026).

The Government has rejected the idea of making solar pv compulsory on new buildings in the standard to take effect in 2026. This will be a step backward from the current standards which encourages solar pv on new builds.  The 2026 building regulations for England may follow the path being set by Scotland where low carbon heating is expected to produce the required emissions reductions and not solar pv.

Emily Rice, the Scotland Policy Analyst for Solar Energy UK, said ‘Interaction of new building regulations and New Build Heat Standard could kill (the) Scottish New Build Solar industry’. You can see/hear her and others at the recent Green Buildings webinar HERE 

But at least the Scottish regulations are mandating heat pumps to be installed in new buildings. In England, even this may well NOT be the case as the hydrogen lobby gear up to persuade the Government to allow so-called ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers.  This means natural gas boilers with a hydrogen-ready sticker on them. The Government said in a recent statement:  ‘We are also researching the safety and feasibility of using hydrogen in the gas grid as an alternative way of providing heat at the scale required for net zero’, see here at page 7 

Indeed the Government has adopted the language that new homes must be ‘zero carbon ready’, which may allow the gas heating industry to pretend that their ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers will meet this objective. Certainly there is talk from the gas industry in support of this narrative. For example, a ‘hydrogen heating‘ campaign has been launched.

As the magazine Homebuilding and Renovating put it: ‘The government revealed in its Heat and Buildings Strategy last year that it will not make a firm decision on what role hydrogen will play in heating the UK’s homes until 2026. And earlier this year, in an update to the government’s Hydrogen Strategy (also published in 2021), it was confirmed that a range of research is now underway to develop hydrogen infrastructure and test its efficacy in UK homes ahead of the 2026 decision’.

The magazine ‘Homebuilding and Renovating say that the Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers (IGEM) has urged the government to commit to hydrogen-ready boilers by 2023…Meanwhile, the Energy Networks Association (ENA), the industry body representing energy network operators in the UK, said earlier this year that it is preparing capability to introduce 20% hydrogen into the regular UK gas grid from 2023.’

Hydrogen-ready boilers will almost certainly be a front for continued natural gas heating, and locking in yet more buildings into long term fossil fuel use. Few, if any, energy efficiency experts really believe that that a hydrogen heating strategy is feasible. Certainly, it is wholly undesirable since heat pumps will use energy around 4xs more efficiently than the putative hydrogen boilers (that is if they ever get any further than a few very expensive demonstration schemes).

Of course, with a General Election slated at the end of 2024, we may not actually see any final draft of the new building regulations before the election – merely another untrustworthy manifesto commitment. Remember the commitment in the 2019 manifesto to spend £9.2 billion on energy efficiency?

By David Toke

Campaign for green buildings – Make solar panels on suitable buildings mandatory and ban fossil fuel heating in new buildings SIGN the petition here! 

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