Looking back to move forward

In his first column in our new regular series, Pete Mills, Commercial Technical Operations Manager for Bosch Commercial & Industrial, looks back at the main policy updates from 2020.

As we say goodbye to 2020, I think many of us are reflecting on what lies ahead and taking stock of a year like no other. Like many businesses, we are continually involved in consultations concerning future policy, standards and guidance that affect our areas of industry. 2020 proved to be the most demanding period of consultations that I think many of us have ever known, no doubt reflecting not only a time of great crisis, but also of great change.

The pace of consultations emanating from Government and institutions was quite something and felt at times like a bombardment. Particularly during the first lockdown when so many were furloughed, those left working in the industry struggled to keep up with the seemingly endless round of document reading and tight deadlines to respond. Yet, it remains vital for industry to continue to engage with as many consultations as possible, to ensure genuine concerns and opportunities are communicated.

The future of heating our buildings was very much in focus last year and will certainly continue well into 2021. Just before Christmas, we saw the release of the Government’s Energy White Paper, which followed on the heels of the PM’s 10-point plan. Within these documents, there is a clear determination to tackle the decarbonisation of heat, but still an open approach of being technology neutral. This reflects the widely held view that all of the potential routes for change, that is heat pumps, decarbonised gas (Hydrogen and Biomethane) and heat networks, need to boom if we are to hit the net zero carbon targets by 2050. The scale of the challenge to make this monumental change happen must not be underestimated.

The industry welcomes the further commitment by Government to investigate the potential of heating our buildings with hydrogen. A lot of much needed progress was achieved in 2020, in spite of the challenges we all faced, with the Hy4Heat and HyDeploy programs remaining central to progress. Gas remains one of the key areas of focus where consultations on significant change for the industry continue. It is vital in particular, that commercial buildings are not left behind as the gas industry gears up for fundamental changes it will face in the coming decades, both to current gas supplies and decarbonised gas. There are some specific challenges for commercial appliances that are well known to Government, which will have to be tackled to ensure readiness for hydrogen conversion. The commitment to investigate a hydrogen village and then a hydrogen town before the end of this decade should help to keep the UK ahead in this technology area. Something not lost on a Government looking to boost jobs and exports in a Green Industrial Revolution.

Although a lot of policy focus has been on the new build sector, this represents only a small proportion of the challenge. The existing building stock will be the most difficult to deal with and represents the bulk of buildings that need to reduce their carbon emissions to meet net zero. We saw last year consultation on PAS 2038 for the retrofit of Non-Domestic Buildings by BSi and will have to see how this develops and what it may end up being linked to. In the Energy White Paper, the Government also committed to consultation on regulation for the rented Non-Domestic Building sector to raise EPC (Energy Performance Certificates) performance to band B by 2030. This will be of significant importance to any commercial building owners.

Heat networks were not specifically mentioned in the announcements by Government, but were covered in the Energy White Paper. They remain a key route for the decarbonisation of heat in dense urban areas and are the only technology that could make use of waste heat at scale, as well as geothermal. There is significant progress on going by Government looking into the regulation of the industry to ensure consumer protection, through the Heat Networks: Building a Market Framework consultation. This is an important next step for the industry and should include some minimum technical standards that ensure outcomes are more consistent for new heat networks. Aligned with this is the commitment to look into the topic of “zoning”. This could potentially have significant implications for a change in direction linked to planning. It could see areas identified for a particular technology to be used for decarbonising heat. This will not only affect domestic housing but also non-domestic buildings and industrial, as it is often these type of buildings that provide key anchor (heat) loads for a heat network. It is highly likely that the issue of an “obligation to connect” will be discussed during this consultation, with the unavoidable political implications that this could bring. Government have committed to consult on zoning by the spring of 2021.

We are likely to see the pace of change of measures to tackle carbon reduction increase as we enter 2021, with a continuing backdrop of a pandemic that still dominates the way we live and work. It has never been more vital that all parties continue to engage with consultations to the regulations that will change our lives in the years to come.