Who could have predicted the 2010s?

This time ten years ago, we’d just stepped into a brand-new decade. But who could have predicted the years between now and then? Back in January 2010, Gordon Brown was still Prime Minister and our TV screens had not yet been blessed with Game of Thrones. Who would have known that the ten years that followed would have been (almost) as dramatic as the fight for the Iron Throne: containing two referendums, four prime ministers and two royal weddings. Plenty has happened, but what impact has all this political change had on the heating sector? Taking it back to the start, the May 2010 election set us off on the right foot with all major parties promising additional support for energy efficiency. After the UK’s second-ever hung parliament result, five days of post-election uncertainty marked the end of 13 years of LAbour and the start of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

It was under the Cameron-Clegg leadership that the Green Deal was born, following a pledge from David Cameron to be the ‘greenest government.’ Unfortunately, this ‘pay-as-you-save’ scheme failed in its ambitions to help bring down energy bills. But the sister policy, the Energy Company Obligation Scheme (ECO), which kicked off in April 2013, has been more successful with millions of fuel-poor households benefiting from energy-saving measures.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was also introduced, offering quarterly cash payments to the owners of low-carbon technologies such as heat pumps and solar. Although the RHI has had some success, it failed to meet the expectation of many, and low-carbon technologies still represent only a small share of the market as we stand just a year away from the scheme’s end date on March 2021.
The Zero Carbon Homes policy was introduced in a bid to ensure all new homes were carbon-neutral from 2016, but the policy was scuppered by wrangling between housebuilders and government over its implementation. The policy was initially announced under a Labour government nine years prior but ended up being scrapped only months before it was due to come into effect.

Looking back over the first half of the decade, these failed interventions really seemed to set the tone and create a good deal of pessimism. It’s hard to believe the turnaround  Despite the policy disasters that marked the early years of the 2010s, the last part of the decade was defined by increasing ambition, consumer interest and pressure for action. The government set out its proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the economy in its Clean Growth Strategy in 2017, outlining the path to Britain’s low-carbon future.

Despite all the chaos surrounding Brexit, the UK became the first major economy to set a target to meet net-zero emissions by 2050; many Local Authorities have now issued Climate Emergency declarations of their own, with 261 in place at the latest count. Climate protests have taken place on the streets of Britain to put pressure on the government to do more to drive down emissions, and political parties responded to this growing pressure for climate action with ambitious policy pledges within their 2019 election manifestos. It is almost as if we turned the clock back to 2010 – again targeting significant improvements in new-build energy efficiency standards and committing to do something about the energy efficiency of our homes. This time, the decarbonisation of heat is also a feature, with support for hydrogen, green gas and electrification.

Ten years from now, we’ll be well on the way to a low-carbon economy and change for the heating sector is inevitable due to wider global trends such as digitalisation. It will be interesting to see whether energy policy will have a role to play. Will it be another decade of stop-start commitments, or will the ambition for change be matched with action?

Article Written by Ecuity Partner, James Higgins, originally published in the January edition of H&V News Magazine