Worcestershire County Council: Potential conflicts between net zero and fuel poverty

The challenge to meet net zero ambitions relies on a shift towards electrically heated properties. A key issue is how to bring fuel poor households along on this journey to net zero without making heating their homes even less affordable for them.

The challenge

Worcestershire is a predominantly rural county with over 250,000 households.  Around 80 per cent of the properties are connected to the mains gas network with the remaining 20 per cent reliant on electric heating, oil, liquified petroleum gas and a small proportion of coal. Current funding under the Green Homes Grants is encouraging the move to air source heat pumps. The Government’s impact assessment estimates that a third of households would see an increase in their energy bills as a result of installing a heat pump. The challenge is how the move to net zero can be equitable. 

The solution

As part of Action Learning Set discussions, Worcestershire County Council's Sustainability Programme Manager, Heather Dawes, was able to identify a need to increase her knowledge base on the topic of heat pumps and their applications. While she understood how a heat pump worked Heather found she needed more information about suitable applications in retrofit.

Heather accomplished this through her own learning and via recommendations from the group. She also decided to investigate hydrogen as a heating solution.

The impact

Heather felt better informed about the technological solutions and will continue to undertake further research into the technology on offer and the potential impact on fuel poor households. While studies have found air source heat pumps can be installed in all types of properties they may not result in cheaper running costs for all which is where there remains a conflict with fuel poverty. Mains gas households may have removed their hot water tanks in favour of combi boilers. New space in a property may need to be identified to reinstate a heat store/hot water tank for a heat pump. Heather shared this learning with teams delivering the Local Authority Delivery Programme to help inform the allocation of funding.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Heather is continuing to look for independent sources of information on when is the right time to install a heat pump in certain types of properties and where there will be some properties that will remain unaffordable.

Lessons learned

Finding the right sources of information is key alongside access to a broad range of sources. Heather decided to continue to question the approach until she is confident with the solution.