National Grid has published a report on the Net Zero Energy workforce, and very welcome it is. Particularly the figure below showing that decarbonisation not only delivers 400,000 jobs, but does so across every region and nation.
We’ve been doing our own research into the impact of decarbonisation of jobs, using our CROHM tool to map the most cost-effective route to decarbonising homes and, from that, identifying the skills required.
The existing home refurbishment industry
The number of people employed in the existing refurbishment sector is very hard to pin down statistically, but using Office of National Statistics data we calculate these trades make up 12% of the entire UK construction industry in terms of personnel and 30% by value.
We currently have over 150,000 people employed in trades relevant to retrofit, reduced from a high in 2008 when close to 250,000, covering a range of skills and expertise:
Whilst the market as a whole has never recovered from the financial crash, the demand for joiners, electricians and heating engineers has remained steady.
But this seeming stability hides an underlying crisis in this sector: the lack of new entrants to it and a rapidly ageing workforce. This threatens our ability to maintain even the current levels of work. This becomes even more stark when we consider the gap with where we need to be.
Parity Projects recently analysed the UK housing stock to identify the most cost-effective way to reach a minimum of EPC band C by 2030. Our software tests 2400 options for each address, using current market prices. We can then analyse the outputs and identify the challenges for deployment using our 15 years experience in the field. To each of these interventions we can assign workload, defined by the trade and their time.
The ‘EPC C’ target was aligned with current Government targets to mitigate climate change from our housing stock, and to meet that, we identified the need for a 139% rise in the number of people working in the domestic refurbishment sector to cover the additional work.
Our analysis looks at this problem relatively simply – to carry out all of the necessary work needed between now and 2030, but by assuming that all work starts this year. i.e. we instantly need 223,387 more tradespeople. The longer we wait to start this enormous undertaking, the more personnel we will need. It is our view as specialist in the field for over 15 years, that the creation of this workforce is the critical path to successfully tackling climate change.
Our concern is that no-one seems to be addressing this gap in our workforce, and ask that National Grid ensure they incorporate all relevant trades into their model. Low carbon heating is more costly and less effective if the whole house energy performance is not considered.
With this challenging outlook, our project partners are finding it hard to recruit good delivery contractors right now. Those that are good are busy, and booked for many months ahead. Those that are not so good are ready to go but our partners wouldn’t use them.
And the answer is not to source trades from neighbouring areas – they face the same challenge. These skills are needed in every community, now.
What we can do about it
The chicken and egg issue in the industry is well-recognised. The supply chain will respond to demand, but there is no inherent consumer demand for retrofit and no policy has managed to drive it at scale.
Further, the lack of scale and lack of choice means consumers are not necessarily able to find the quality they (and the planet) need. We need good quality projects which enthuse home-owners and engage others.
Energy efficiency programmes offering freebies, whilst welcome in many ways, fail to signal the value of a comfortable, cosy home. But there is a way to build a sustainable and innovative supply chain and develop demand at the same time, applying four of our ten lessons from the Home Front of the Climate Emergency:
- High standards can cut costs: we need zero carbon regulations introduced for new build now. The sooner the skills and materials are required at scale in the new build sector, the sooner costs fall across the entire housing sector; and the normalisation of low carbon homes can, at last, begin.
- Government policy can deliver change at scale: Let’s recognise the most effective policies in the past decade have been products policy and the feed-in tariff. These gave the relevant markets a clear framework in which to innovate. We are getting there with the development of Trustmark and PAS 2035 to assure quality; it is the financial and/or legal imperatives that are missing.
- Retrofit should not be an add-on in building regulations: The opportunities to influence energy efficiency in owner-occupied homes is rare but the potential levers are known. Building regulations should promote and require net zero design at every stage, as should legal responsibilities and financial charges at the point of sale and rent.
- An emergency requires urgency: early movers across all sectors should be rewarded. These are one-off decisions, potentially with significant hassle, but also with significant long-term benefits: a tonne of carbon saved this year by energy efficiency, is worth ten saved in a decade’s time.