The Challenge

With UN Secretary-General António Guterres now stating that the human destruction of nature is 'senseless and suicidal' and Sir David Attenborough warning we are already too late to avoid significant impacts from climate change, it really is now or never to take serious and meaningful action.

Few people now doubt that we are in a climate and ecological emergency. It’s time we started acting like it. With housing accounting for 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions, any effort to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees or below must include the full decarbonisation of existing housing stock, starting today.

In the social housing sector, landlords need a 30-year plan on how they will manage their stock to meet the UK’s climate and net-zero obligations.

At the same time, some of the most vulnerable people in our society are paying the most to heat and power their homes - much of which is then wasted due to poor insulation and airtightness. Reducing the cost of keeping homes warm and comfortable will have a significant improvement on people’s health, income and wellbeing.

Of course, social landlords are acutely aware of this, and many have used their own resources, in combination with innovation grants, to implement basic energy efficiency measures.

But these efforts barely scratch the surface: the return on investment required to decarbonise homes and reduce tenants' bills is often too low to be viable. Small-scale innovation projects fail to build in mechanisms to roll out improvement measures at scale, or to share detailed blueprints within the industry, which would enable replication.

According to Savills, making social housing hit net-zero carbon standards by 2050 in line with the government’s target will cost £3.5bn a year.

The opportunity

This is why at Bioregional we are excited to win a new grant from the Energy Redress Fund. Under Ofgem's redress process, energy companies found to have breached a licence condition, or were part of an investigation or compliance case, can make voluntary payments alongside or instead of fines and compensation to address any harm caused to consumers. Energy Saving Trust has been appointed by Ofgem to distribute these funds.

An estimated 96,000 people in its hard-to-treat properties, 50% of its total stock, stand to benefit.

In the UK, homes make up 25% of total energy use and 15% of greenhouse gas.

Our grant will enable us to work with our specialist partners to develop a model for social landlords to install low-carbon, deep retrofitting measures in hard-to-treat homes at scale, in a financially viable way. We want to develop a deep retrofit solution that generates diverse revenue streams for social landlords that would enable them to roll out measures across stock portfolios.

The solutions being explored include retrofit, on-site renewable energy generation, energy storage, electrical grid services, time-of-use tariffs, providing an investment incentive, and breaking down the financial, regulatory, and operational barriers of improving social-housing stock.

Roll-out of the model will result in lower bills and better-quality housing for tenants, cutting the environmental impact of poor energy-performing social housing and providing a sustainable income stream for landlords in return for their investment.

The model will be informed by the resident experience and social return on investment as well as providing a sustainable business model for landlords to take the lead in the decarbonisation of the sector.

Progress so far

The project is already underway, in collaboration with project partner organisations Nottingham Trent University, Etude, Currie & Brown and Places for People.

Our site is 94 social rented units of 1 and 2-bed flats, all owned by Project Sponsor Places for People in a 1970s build in Milton Keynes. The project team is surveying the condition of the property, establishing a baseline on ventilation and heating among others, and collating tenant perspectives, risks and costs.

In a step change from current retrofitting studies, we will also be looking at the social impacts of the project by engaging with tenants and incorporating their views and feedback into the decision-making process when identifying technologies and solutions.

I’m hopeful that the results of this research will help us provide a powerful incentive for unleashing a green social housing revolution across the UK, creating a replicable model for carbon and cost savings, while generating jobs and skills in a much-needed emerging sector.

This blog was originally published by the newly launched Unlock Net Zero Hub.

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