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Future Homes Standard: the technology approach

What the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is looking for in the Standard

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says that to meet the Future Homes Standard by 2025, industry ‘will need to develop the necessary supply chains, skills and construction practices to deliver low-carbon heat, and highly energy efficient new homes’.

It says that the first steps in facilitating these changes are to provide a clear vision for implementing the Future Homes Standard and to set an ambitious uplift to the current energy performance requirements in the Building Regulations for new homes: “The existing requirements already require good levels of energy efficiency, but we need to push further. We must ensure that new homes are future-proofed to facilitate the installation of low-carbon heat, avoiding the need to be retrofitted later, and that home builders and supply chains are in a position to build to the Future Homes Standard by 2025.”

Its expectation is that an average semi-detached home built to meet the new Standard would produce 75-80 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than one built to the 2013 Part L requirements. “This would typically mean that a new home built to the Future Homes Standard would have a heat pump, a waste water heat recovery system, triple glazing and minimum standards for walls, floors and roofs that significantly limit any heat loss. However, we will set the Future Homes Standard in performance terms, such as minimum levels of primary energy and CO2 emissions, limiting fabric standards and building services standards, without prescribing the technologies to be used. This allows housebuilders the flexibility to innovate and select the most practical and cost-effective solutions in particular circumstances.”

It also notes that as we move towards a decarbonised electricity grid, homes built to the new standard will become net zero carbon over time with no need for further adaptations or changes, as they will not be reliant on fossil fuels for their heating.

Energy use in homes accounts for about 14 per cent of UK emissions, with electricity consumption in homes accounting for 6 per cent, so the government is seeking views on two different options to reduce this: The first option is a 20 per cent improvement on carbon dioxide emissions, expected to be delivered predominantly through an increased fabric standard, achieved through measures such as triple glazing and waste water heat recovery. This is forecast to add £2557 to the cost of a new home, while saving £59 a year on energy bills. The second option would result in a 31 per cent improvement on carbon dioxide emissions, which is expected to typically be delivered through a more minor increase to fabric standards, alongside use of low-carbon heating and/or renewables, such as solar PV. This would add £4847 to the cost of building a new home, but would save £257 a year in energy.

The MCHLG notes that although reducing the demand for heat through improved fabric standards in new homes has an important role to play it will not, on its own, meet our ambitions for the Future Homes Standard or the net zero emissions target by 2050. Therefore, in addition to a high level of fabric efficiency it also proposes that a low carbon heating system is integral to the specification of the Future Homes Standard.

Such low carbon heating, the MCHLG says, may be delivered through heat pumps, heat networks and, in some circumstances, direct electric heating.

It adds: “We anticipate that the installation of heat pumps, particularly air-to-water and air-to-air heat pumps, will play a major role in delivering low carbon heat for homes built to the Future Homes Standard. Heat pumps come with the same low-carbon benefits as direct electric heating, but can deliver heat much more efficiently, which can help to overcome the affordability and grid-resource constraints associated with direct electric heating…However, the installation of heat pumps in the UK is at a level much lower than that necessary to meet the ambition of the Future Homes Standard.”

It notes that the independent Committee on Climate Change states that there is a need to establish heat pumps as a mass market solution for low carbon heating and there are opportunities to start this with new build properties: “The Committee also recommends that ‘new homes should not be connected to the gas grid from 2025’ [and] this has informed our thinking on how we should frame the Future Homes Standard.”

Heat networks are also a key part of the MCHLG thinking, in particular in cities and high-density areas: “Heat networks can decarbonise more easily compared to most other heat sources because new technologies can be added to the system with little disruption to individual householders. They provide a unique opportunity to exploit larger scale, renewable and recovered heat sources that can’t be accessed at an individual building level. Heat networks also provide system benefits such as thermal storage and reducing the energy demand of the grid at peak times. It is estimated by the CCC that around 18 per cent of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its carbon targets cost-effectively. We expect that heat networks will have a strong role to play in delivering low carbon heat to new homes in future.”

MCHLG also envisages a ‘minor role’ for direct electric heating, given its combination of efficiency and relatively high cost. It says: “Direct electric heating is a well-established technology that produces heat through a near-100 per cent efficient process, with no emissions at the point of use. Despite this, direct electric heaters can be very expensive to run, and if deployed at scale may have a significant effect on the national grid. Under some circumstances it may be an appropriate technology in applications where heat demand is particularly low, for instance where a home is built to the very highest fabric standards.”

The Ministry notes that other technologies, such as hydrogen, may have a role to play in heating systems of the future, but for new homes, heat pumps and heat networks are anticipated to be the principal means of producing low-carbon heat for buildings built to the Future Homes Standard.

 

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