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Election 2019: parties outline battleground for low carbon homes and heat

Key UK manifestos all pledge some form of commitment to decarbonised buildings and heat, yet new independent analysis warns Brexit uncertainty risks further undermining long-term ambitions

All key parties standing in the upcoming General Election have outlined major decarbonisation proposals, with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and – perhaps unsurprisingly – the Green Party, setting out several key pledges for greener heat and homes.

Each of the UK parties represented in the last parliament support decarbonisation over the next three decades, with the 12 December poll providing an opportunity to provide vitally important detail on how they each hope to transform buildings and key HVAC functions nationally.

The Conservative Party, which in government has introduced a 2050 national net-zero pledge into law this year, made a broad pledge to invest in decarbonisation, while also committing to realise more environmentally friendly homes and lower energy bills.

A single mention of both Grenfell Tower and building safety is made in the manifesto, with the Conservative Party noting it has already committed to implement recommendations for reform set out in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety published in 2018.

The findings of the review, overseen by Dame Judith Hackitt, found a regulatory and enforcement system not fit for purpose. A series of consultations are currently underway to try and address the issues raised.

The Conservative’s said, “We will continue to work with industry, housing associations and individuals to ensure every home is safe and secure.”

An initial budget under a future Conservative government would also assign £800m to build a first carbon capture storage cluster from the middle of the next decade, the manifesto said.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has been identified by organisation’s such as the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) as a vital component to support decarbonised heat in the UK. However, the technology is viewed by experts as being hugely underdeveloped at present across the country.

The manifesto also added, “We will set up a new independent Office For Environmental Protection and introduce our own legal targets, including for air quality.”

From an energy perspective, the party added that it would also support “gas for hydrogen and nuclear energy”, while continuing a commitment to renewables. Yet, there is no direct mention in the party’s manifesto document of specific heating policy beyond existing government commitments such as a Future Homes Standard that is currently under consultation alongside reforms to the Building Regulations.

Labour outlines energy and green jobs focus

The Labour Party has pledged within its own manifesto to deliver 90 per cent of UK electricity from renewable energy by 2030. By the same year, the party said it would target having half of the country’s total heat demand eing met through renewable or “low carbon sources” of energy.

Another headline pledge in the manifesto is to realise a net-zero carbon energy system during the 2030s or earlier, if a credible route can be found. Other pledges announced by the party were the creation of 7,000 new offshore wind turbines and 2,000 onshore units, as well as the introduction of solar panels that would cover an area equivalent to 22,000 football pitches.

Labour said it also expected to need new nuclear power generation capabilities would be needed to ensure sufficient energy security.

The party added, “As part of heat decarbonisation, we will roll out technologies like heat pumps, solar hot water and hydrogen and invest in district heat networks using waste heat.” It also promised these measures would create one million “green jobs”.

Credibility analysis

Independent analysis group the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that the Conservatives combined manifesto commitments would likely require more spending than implied in their manifesto for the five-year period.

IFS said in its review of both of the party’s manifesto’s that a surprisingly modest number of detailed proposals in the Conservative manifesto reflected the “remote” possibility of the party being able to realistically retain commitments to relatively low levels of spending for the next government.

The analysis said, “Why have the Conservatives been so immensely modest in their proposals? Because to do otherwise would either mean resiling from their pledge to balance the current budget or would mean being up front about the need for tax rises to avoid breaking that pledge.”

Criticisms were also raised over the Conservative’s pledge to ensure the transition period for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was completed, no matter what, by the end of 2020. IFS claimed this would in effect result in a ‘no deal’ exit with the country’s largest trading partner that has been rejected on numerous occasions by parliament over economic concerns.

The analysis said, “That would harm the economy and of course increase the debt and deficit.”

Labour’s manifesto proposals to deliver investment spending were also criticised as not being viable by the IFS, based on the calculations provided by the party. Analysis of a stated ambition to raise £80bn in tax revenue as proposed in the party’s manifesto would require a longer-term focus of additional tax raising proposals for millions of people other than the top five per cent of national earners.

The IFS concluded that Labour’s commitment should be seen as being more a longer-term focus, as opposed to realistic aims that can be delivered during a single five-year parliament term.

The analysis said, “Beyond renegotiating Brexit and doubling investment spending, overhauling substantial parts of the tax system and massively increasing day-to-day spending, Labour’s plans for widespread nationalisation, increased labour market regulation, changes to corporate governance and effectively transferring 10 per cent of private share capital to a combination of employees and the state, would all be huge and complex undertakings that would all need to be carefully done.”

“All that said, much of Labour’s vision is of a state not so dissimilar to those seen in many other successful Western European economies. Labour’s proposed increase in the size of the state would still leave UK public spending at a lower share of national income than that seen in Germany. Water companies are more often than not in public ownership.”

The Brexit issue

A key caveat of the analysis was that the ultimate deliverability of any party’s pledges were dependent on somehow resolving the large amount of uncertainty that continues to face the UK economy as a result of a lack of clear direction on Brexit.

The IFS noted, “Labour’s Brexit plans would prolong uncertainty but would presumably result in either a softer Brexit than proposed by the Conservatives or in remaining in the EU – though whether that would end uncertainty about our eventual destination must itself be uncertain. Ignoring that last point this would help the economy grow faster under Labour and faster still under the Liberal Democrats.”

“Higher levels of investment spending would also promote growth. On the other hand, big increases in corporates taxes, minimum wages, labour market regulation, and possible uncertainty over property rights associated with nationalisations and the inclusive ownership fund could point in the other direction.”

The analysis said it was not currently possible to say whether the Labour Party manifesto would be a positive or negative for economic growth. Assuming that proposals to increase investment and pursue a softer, less drastic form of Brexit than the Conservatives would automatically ensure higher growth were deemed “far too simplistic”, the IFS added.

Liberal democrats target net-zero 2045 switch

Outside of the two largest political parties standing across the entirety of UK, the Liberal Democrats have said they intend to ensure the country has fully eliminated or offset carbon emissions five years earlier than the current government target of 2050.

The party’s ambitions will be supported partly through a focus on expanding renewable heat by requiring new homes and non-domestic buildings to be built to a net-zero standard by 2021. According to the party, this would be defined as buildings that generate as much renewable energy on site as they use.

By 2025, the Liberal Democrats would push for ‘passivhaus’ standards to be required of these same buildings.

Further support for the ambitions would be backed by increasing minimum energy efficiency standards that are currently in place for privately rented properties. The Liberal Democrats would also remove a cost cap imposed on improvement work.

The Liberal Democrats manifesto has pledged to reform the Renewable Heat Inventive that has been in place for a number of years, while supporting a phased installation off heat-pumps in homes and businesses not connected to the gas grid.

The Green Party meanwhile said it would seek to fully reduce and off-set the entirety of the UK’s carbon emission by 2030. This would be supported through a Green New deal strategy looking at homes, transport and jobs totalling a total yearly investment of £100bn.

This strategy will include investment to support upgrading a million homes a year, as well as the creation of 100,000 new council homes annually.

According to the manifesto, the party would also commit to improve short-term energy storage capacity.

The party said this would ensure, “That electricity from peak periods of renewable electricity generation can be effectively stored – utilising solutions such as domestic solar batteries, storage as heat in hot water cylinders and thermal stores, and smart control of vehicle battery charging.”

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