Is Reaching NetZero for Heating the UK’s Homes an Unlikely Pipe-Dream Vision?

House with solar panels and horse riders, Redditch, Worcestershire, England
House with solar panels and horse riders, Redditch, Worcestershire, England

What grants and energy efficiency help schemes are available in 2024 in the UK?

Although Rishi Sunak’s government are intentionally working towards NetZero policies, unless you are on a very low income and/or receiving benefits there is currently no simple government help to upgrade insulation and heating systems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

UK citizens need to be homeowners or tenants who have prior permission from their landlords (or landladies) in order to make physical changes to their properties. Installing any new environmentally friendly systems or insulating upgrades that minimise bills and make energy efficiency improvements to their homes, requires consent from the homeowner.

However, across the British Isles, individual bill payers are often eligible for benefit and grant payments or discounts directly from their energy suppliers as appropriate to each type of scheme, as we will outline further below.

The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is a government energy efficiency scheme in England, Scotland and Wales designed to tackle fuel poverty and help reduce carbon emissions. This is focused on low-income households. (1)

The Local Authority Delivery (LAD) provides funding for energy efficiency upgrades and low-carbon heating in low-income households in England in some areas who are receiving funding from central government. (1)

UK government energy support grants for older people

However, if you live on your own and are aged over 67 (born before 1957) there is a winter fuel payment of £500 or £600 that is not income related in terms of assessment. (2)

Older couples or people who live with older people in the UK need to check their specific payment eligibility with their local councils as they may be eligible for a few hundred pounds one off payment towards their heating bills this winter. (2)

Local councils have budgets for emergency financial support under the local welfare assistance scheme for people who experience a short-term crisis. This welfare scheme could include repairing or replacing a sudden broken boiler in a house with vulnerable people, who are without any savings, for example. (3)

Cost of living and energy support payments for people receiving means-tested benefits and/or disability benefits

For those on qualifying low-income benefits there are additional winter fuel ‘cost-of-living’ benefit payments that are automatically paid to households that are already receiving regular benefits. These payments are up to £900 in total and often made in 3 payments. (3)

Standard energy credit meter customers on pension credit and certain other benefits like universal credit will be eligible to receive £150 towards their bills from their supplier, which may be in the form of pre-payment top up vouchers. (2)(3)

Home upgrade grants (HUGs)

Off-grid properties in certain postcodes are eligible for grants towards upgrading their EPC certificates, if they are currently less than a band C (e.g. D to G.) This could include help towards insulation and energy efficient heating systems such as heat pumps. Qualifying depends on certain postcodes and not all councils are offering this grant at the moment, so homeowners will need to enquire with their local councils. (4)

More information about who is eligible to receive winter fuel payments and grants and benefits to help pay winter energy bills and payments are available at the Citizens Advice service website and also the Age UK website.  (1) (2)

The CAB is open every week day in most towns in the UK and the organisation can help with financial advice and help with advice about managing bills and any legal matters, as well as finding out if you and your family is eligible for any government scheme help. The CAB also has a telephone consumer helpline (see below) (1)

Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)

‘The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) enables small-scale generators to receive payments from electricity suppliers for electricity which they export back to the National Grid, providing certain criteria are met.’ (5)

Examples of low-carbon technology system types that may enable UK residents to benefit from SEG payments include: Solar photovoltaic (solar PV) wind, micro combines heat and power (micro-CHP) hydro, anaerobic digestion (5)

These alternative energy system installations must be located in Great Britain and have a total installed capacity (TIC) of no more than 5MW, or no more than 50kW for micro-CHP. See the link below for more details about these ‘pay back’ schemes. (5)

Conclusion – current UK government schemes do not fast-track us to NetZero homes by 2050

All solutions for improving domestic home heating rely on first considering modern insulation methods. Balancing the thermal efficiency of an existing property to maximise a home’s efficiency at retaining heat, whilst maintaining and improving air-quality within the interior space, is important.

Currently the government are focusing their financial support on helping low-income residents with extremely high energy bills during an ongoing cost-of-living crisis that affects millions of households across the British Isles. This will do something to help the alarming rates of fuel poverty currently existing throughout the United Kingdom. (1) (2)

In 2024 there is very little support or no support available to UK tax paying working people of all average and high-income levels, who all face high cost of living costs, who may be interested in financially investing in energy efficient upgrades, to improve the environmental standards and minimise the bills in their properties.

Individual households who may choose to install the latest alternative energy systems will most likely be home owners who are looking to stay in their properties for at least a decade, in order to ‘break even’ on their investments and eventually receive the long-term financial benefits of the high up-front costs of installing a new environmentally friendly home energy systems (for example: solar panels or heat pump systems).

Therefore, budgets and/or savings of many thousands of pounds are required to cover these upfront system upgrade costs, which is a luxury position that is open to relatively few consumers in the country at this current time.

Although new alternative energy systems such as hydrogen ready boilers connected to the national energy grid are undoubtedly the future for achieving NetZero in densely populated countries like the UK, the current selection of products and solutions is very limiting in many small buildings such as the homes that most of us actually live in.

For example, unless you live in an area that is considered warm all year around, stand-alone heat pumps are not a brilliant solution. A very large garden for pipework is often required which does not apply to the majority of the population, who couldn’t afford to dig it all up and totally remodel it all anyway.

Even if you have the right type of sun facing roof, the amount of solar energy available in the UK in the winter will not be enough to independently run a family home’s heating at present, let alone sell it back to an energy supplier for a profit.

That is not to say that choosing to make alternative energy improvements is not worth it in the long term, but that the current ‘green’ home schemes available do very little to inspire or support average home owners to want to devote their hard earnt savings to upgrading their existing boilers unnecessarily.

More central government investment in alternative energy product development and infrastructure is urgent. More training in regulated installers and engineers is also a priority in order to reach home alternative energy system ‘roll out’ objectives of any significant scale to have an impact.

As we approach an election in 2024, any new leadership worth its salt will need to propose a massively better strategy than we currently have in order to reach anywhere near the ambitious target of achieving NetZero homes in the UK by 2050.

There is still a potential for our island to ‘be the change we want to see in the world’ when it comes to alternative energy provision. As previous UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested; we could lead the evolution to NetZero homes in the UK, as we lead the industrial revolution in the 19th century. (4)

Of course, whether rapid industrialisation was a brilliant development for the planet in the long run, is of course controversial, for obvious reasons!

The current uncoordinated situation with a mishmash of mediocre schemes and non-existent incentives. The housing crisis in England means that unless there is a major change in investment, infrastructure and leadership, this idea of delivering a country full of impressive alternative energy driven domestic heating, is currently a very unlikely pipe-dream vision.

See also related article:

Delivering Domestic Heating in Energy Efficient Homes Needs Mojor Policy Improvements in the UK

(1) ‘Grants and benefits to help you pay your energy bills’ Citizens Advice UK, 25 January 2024 ‘Grants and benefits to help you pay your energy bills’ Citizens Advice UK

Citizens Advice Bureau telephone helpline (Mon-Fri, 9am – 5pm) 08082231133

(2) ‘Warm Home Discount’ Age UK, 25th January 2024 ‘Warm Home Discount’ Age UK

(3) ‘Housing and energy grants’ Clare Casalis and Andrew Capstick, MoneySavingExpert, 13 December 2024 ‘Housing and energy grants’ Clare Casalis and Andrew Capstick, MoneySavingExpert

(4) ‘Heat and Buildings Strategy’ HM Government, published 19 October 2021, updated 1 March 2023 ‘Heat and Buildings Strategy’ HM Government

(5) ‘The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)’ Ofgem UK Government Organisation, 25th January 2024 ‘The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)’ Ofgem UK Government Organisation

(6) ‘Help with energy efficiency, heating and renewable energy in homes’ 10 January 2024 ‘Help with energy efficiency, heating and renewable energy in homes’ Commons Library UK