I have been looking for a good metaphor for the journey towards decarbonisation that we are all involved in and I have decided that, although it’s a bit of a cliché, the ‘rollercoaster ride’ pretty much covers it.
I will tell you why. We are now pretty sure that there’s a significant acceleration in the technology of low carbon heating – and indeed a whole bunch of electric technology that goes with it – not far away at all.
This will be the point where we can all go whizzing down the big switchback as an integrated industry, building, designing, installing and monitoring all the innovative stuff. But until then, there is a very palpable sense of frustration at the pace of change – whether it be the government going more slowly than the industry would like over regulatory matters, the consumers not taking the plunge into the new technology as quickly as expected, or the installer community apparently not jumping at the chance to train themselves for the necessary new skills.
It feels like, to return to the rollercoaster, we are currently on that approach to the big hill where everything starts to creak to a crawl and you can hear the car being cranked up, inch by inch to the top. There is plenty of anticipation, because we know that the great accelerating descent is, literally, around the corner, but it is taking for ever to get there…
For those whose job it is to design the technology for the net zero future, or indeed to install the systems they go in, it is understandable how the current situation is proving frustrating. The policy noises from the government over the last few years have been encouraging, but the momentum that will help the industry to deliver the technology simply has not followed it.
So now there are a whole bunch of folk in this industry who are now all buckled up and ready to thrust their arms in the air and screaming that they want to go faster.
There are a whole host of ways that the net zero carbon journey could be accelerated by the government right now. I can give you three now – you will probably be able to come up with many more. Firstly, we could start with speeding up the policy development itself – the fact that the Future Homes Standard is only two years away, yet elements like SAP revisions or competence frameworks have yet to be resolved is clearly putting a brake on the technology delivery. Secondly, how about underpinning funding for training? ‘Pay’ the engineers to come and retrain – compensate them adequately so they don’t actually lose money through time away from paid work. An audience of installers who aren’t thinking about the jobs they are missing out on is surely a more engaged audience. Thirdly, create an environment where consumers don’t see heat pumps and other new technology as a ‘risk’. That will clearly mean much more education and probably more generous funding. And to add an idea from leftfield: create a taskforce to win hearts and minds. It could start by paying for a coachload of national newspaper journalists to tour round half a dozen successful heat pump projects.
We need to keep that pressure up via our representative bodies, MPs and any other means at our disposal. Because, believe me, when it starts to accelerate, the next stage of development of this low-carbon industry will be exhilarating. Let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride.