I’m feeling slightly smug, sitting by the Christmas tree in the warmth of our new heat pump. And it’s good to know I’m not alone, as government figures show there’s been a 57% increase in applications through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme this year.

It’s not been the only positive in the last 12 months, particularly as householders can now get a bigger – £7,500 – grant towards a heat pump under the scheme – part of the Powering Up Britain blueprint. A newly announced £1.5 billion of extra funding should also help boost take up, along with Octopus Energy’s new Cosy 6 pumps and the launch of Aira in the UK, with its direct-to-consumer monthly subscription business.

Government progress
Other encouraging initiatives this year included the creation of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, tasked with securing the UK’s long-term energy supply and bringing down bills, and the launch of the Great British Insulation Scheme – although technically a rebrand of ECO+ – to complement the Energy Company Obligation (EC04) scheme. The government’s blueprint also heralded 35 new Skills Bootcamp courses across England, supporting greener construction, transport, and green energy and industry sectors by the end of the year, tasked with training an army of accredited assessors who could be slotted into heating installation firms. Although there’s been no update on this, the government is already providing funding for training companies to deliver heat loss assessor training courses for just £80 instead of the usual £1,600, populating that ‘tick box’ brigade. Better than nothing I suppose.

Overdue consultation
Another positive is an announcement this week of the long overdue consultation into the Future Homes and Buildings Standards, aiming to reduce the energy usage and greenhouse emissions of new buildings. It sets out technical proposals for changes to Building Regulations, the associated approved document guidance and SAP calculation methods, so fingers crossed that it actually publishes this next year.

Landlord reprieve
Residential landlords were given more breathing space when the government dropped its deadline for bringing rental properties up to an EPC band C by 2028. It was a similar picture in Scotland where the government backtracked on plans to force the private rented sector to meet energy efficiency deadlines by 2025. It’s quite disappointing, as was the short-lived Energy Efficiency Taskforce, asked to come up with ideas for reducing energy demand from buildings and industry by 15% on 2021 levels by 2030, only to be disbanded six months later.

Commercial conundrum
Commercial landlords were ordered to stop renting out buildings with an EPC below an E when revamped MEES regulations came in on 1st April. But as we blogged about last time, there’s huge frustration in the sector about the lack of clarity on whether it will bring EPC targets up to a C in 2027 and a B by 2030. We’re also still waiting for the government to provide an update on its new performance-based policy framework in large commercial and industrial buildings. The consultation started a couple of years ago and would provide a shake-up of energy assessments, so it’s surely imminent.

Warm home plans
It’s fairly certain that when the Renters Reform Bill becomes law next year, a new Decent Homes Standard will apply to the private rented sector for the first time, setting a clear bar for what tenants should expect from their home, ensuring it is safe, warm and decent. This might push more residential landlords towards raising their EPCs, and if we get a change of government next year, Labour could well reinstate those dropped targets. Labour has already promised to deliver a National Warm Homes Plan, upgrading every home that needs it to EPC standard C within a decade, which raises the thorny issue of training up the army of competent Energy Assessors to enable them to actually fulfil that ambition.

Bah humbug!
In the continuing cost-of-living crisis, with energy bills set to go up in January, we’ve recently been told by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden to stock up on battery-powered radios and torches, as well as candles and first aid kits to prepare for power cuts or digital communications going down. This Christmas ‘present’ feels a bit-Scrooge like, fuelling media reports about doom and gloom, so let’s focus on positive green initiatives and achievements instead, of which there are many. After all, technology is already driving the sector forward in many ways, just like those clever heat pump apps that connect to the Wi-Fi, forecast the weather and work out how to heat your home using machine learning. Perhaps the ghost of Christmas future is likely to be some kind of AI-powered apparition? So, in that spirit (excuse the pun), I thought I’d let ChatGPT write Murton & Co’s Christmas message…

‘Wishing you a bright and efficient Christmas season! May your home be filled with the warmth of LED lights, the cosiness of well-insulated spaces, and the joy of energy-saving moments. As you celebrate with loved ones, may your holiday be as sustainable as the twinkle in an energy-efficient bulb. Here’s to a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, guided by the wise and eco-friendly spirit of energy assessors!’

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