Vaillant UK | Low carbon heat for social housing

Vaillant UK | Low carbon heat for social housing

The UK Government has made it clear that for the UK to achieve its climate goals, decarbonising heating in our homes and public buildings will be crucial. To support this, £3.9bn of new funding(1) for decarbonising heat and buildings will be allocated over the next three years. Mark Wilkins, Technologies and Training Director at Vaillant UK discusses the unique challenges decarbonising heat has for the social housing sector and the support available.

Performance targets
In the UK, homes are given an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating between A and G, with A being the most efficient in terms of likely fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the Office for National Statistics(2), the median energy efficiency score for social-rented flats in England, that had an EPC undertaken in financial year ending 2019, was within EPC band C. However, the majority of social houses were within band D.

Through the Clean Growth Strategy, the UK Government has set a target that all social homes reach a minimum standard of EPC band C by 2035(3). This presents social housing providers with a significant challenge to decarbonise heating across existing housing stock using retrofit solutions.

Knowing where to get support
The good news is that these ambitions are being supported with several funding streams — however they differ between England, Scotland, and Wales. For contractors and developers, awareness of these will be crucial in preparing for future tender opportunities.

In England, the Government had previously committed £3.8bn to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF)(4) which would be allocated over a 10-year period to improve the energy performance of social rented homes, on the pathway to Net Zero 2050. In 2021 it was announced that a further £800m would be invested into the SHDF between 2022-2025 to accelerate plans; allocated from the £3.9m of new funding that was announced as part of the UK’s Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Wave 1 of the SHDF was announced in February 2022, with £179m allocated to 69 projects which will involve making energy efficiency upgrades to 20,000 social housing properties across England by March 2023.

In Scotland, the Government has committed to invest at least £200m into the Social Housing Net Zero Fund to support decarbonisation of social housing over the course of this parliamentary term. In the first year of the fund, grant support has been offered to 10 social housing zero emissions heat projects across Scotland.

Wales has a slightly different approach. In November 2021 Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, announced an additional £150m of funding for the Optimised Retrofit Programme. The programme is open to projects located in Wales from registered social landlords (RSLs) and local housing authorities (LHAs). One of the aims of the programme’s second year, is to support the decarbonisation of Welsh social housing stock to reduce carbon emissions. Applications closed in November 2021, and it’s expected that the selected projects will get underway in early 2022.

Understanding low-carbon solutions
The UK’s housing portfolio is incredibly diverse and there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution. The technology chosen must suit the customers’ requirements and consider the property itself. It’s therefore important for social housing developers to ensure they have the knowledge and understanding to be able to carefully assess properties for low carbon technologies, now and in the future.

Whereas homeowners may be able to consider different options for decarbonising heat, local authorities are looking for solutions that help achieve efficiency gains in the shortest amount of time. In some cases, this may be as simple as upgrading to a more energy-efficient boiler. The sustain range and ecoTEC exclusive from Vaillant are high-efficiency boilers that can be used in conjunction with controls to ensure the boiler runs at optimal efficiency, which could also help to lower bills for tenants.

Blending hydrogen into the gas grid is subject to a final decision by the UK Government which it will make next year, as set out in its Hydrogen Strategy(5). In preparation, the Energy Networks Association (ENA) Hydrogen Delivery Plan(6) sets out how all five of the UK’s gas grid companies can start to deliver 20% hydrogen into the country’s gas network from late 2023.

As part of ongoing trials, Vaillant boilers have also been tested with up to 20% hydrogen blended with natural gas, making them ready for when hydrogen fuel becomes an option for heating in the UK.

There is also the option of heat pumps, which have existed for many years and are a proven solution that can help decarbonise homes today. The recent commitment from government to bring them into the UK mainstream heating market is therefore encouraging.

If local authorities choose this option for social housing stock, it will be important for developers to ensure there is a clear plan in place for helping tenants to understand how they work differently to a boiler. Heat pumps are well known and widely adopted in many other European countries, and if used properly can maintain comfortable temperatures whilst significantly reducing carbon emissions. However, they do require the end user to have some knowledge of their operation to be able to work efficiently as possible.

The future of social housing
It’s clear that social housing providers have a significant task on their hands to decarbonise heating across existing housing stock and to provide future homes that are more energy efficient. It’s reassuring to see that this is being supported through government funding, however a deeper understanding of low-carbon heating systems will be the key to unlocking the future of decarbonised social housing.

With regulations, legislation and the green agenda needing to be met when specifying the heat provision of a building design, access to expert guidance and support for each bespoke project is vital. Vaillant has brought together its end-to-end expertise and support teams, available to specifiers across every aspect of heating design, under a new Vaillant Standard umbrella.

Including pre-planning, system design, aftersales and flexible warranties, the Vaillant Standard provides customers with expertise that has been in place for many years and make the most of this wider support to help plan projects, meet the challenge of designing sustainable heating systems, and maximise the potential of each build.

We can help guide contractors and developers through different low carbon technologies, to help choose a solution that achieves the efficiency targets of a project, whilst keeping within budget and remaining appropriate for the property and tenant.

To find out more about the Vaillant Standard visit

  1. From the UK Government website:

The £3.9b of new funding for decarbonising heat and buildings from 2022 to 2025 will be broken down as follows:

  • a. £1.425bn through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme
  • b. £950m for the Home Upgrade Grant scheme
  • c. £800m for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund
  • d. £450m for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme
  • e. £338m for the Heat Network Transformation Programme
  1. Office for National Statistics – Energy efficiency of housing in England and Wales:

Header image ©Stephen Finn/AdobeStock

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