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Last edited 26 Apr 2021
Zero carbon by 2050 - pipe dream or possibility?
Despite the political tumult of 2019, the UK government has committed to pursuing a ‘Net Zero’ carbon economy by 2050. The May 2019 Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report pointed the way to achieving this, across the following areas of the economy:
- Power and hydrogen
- F-gas emissions, and
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) removal.
 Buildings: gas out, heat pumps and hydrogen in
The electrification of energy – based on a massively decarbonised grid – has a central role in the CCC recommendations for the built environment. In addition, smart building control systems will be needed to help manage increased electricity demand and maximise renewable energy use.
The CCC recommendations for buildings also hinge on a massive roll-out of heat pumps, hybrid heat pumps and even hydrogen boilers. This would be supported by urban district heating, smart storage heating and high levels of energy efficiency.
 Energy efficiency always needed...
Energy efficiency alone cannot deliver Net Zero. Even so, it is very often the most cost-effective measure. However, any planned programme will clearly need to be far more successful than the failed ‘Green Deal’ retrofit scheme.
In the CCC report, hybrid (dual fuel) heat pumps would also be used to optimise the use of renewable energy in buildings. In all, the proposals would boost current low-carbon heating from only 4.5% of buildings to a game-changing 90% by 2050.
The total cost of installing the measures above, along with decarbonising the grid, could ramp up to tens of billions of pounds annually, though the CCC suggests that cost reductions would accompany deployment at scale, as currently seen for example by offshore wind.
 Government policy and investment
To achieve UK-wide scale, the government will need a policy framework for building decarbonisation that includes decarbonised heat, as soon as 2020. It will also need to deliver on a ‘Future Homes’ standard (ensuring new build has low-carbon heating and excellent energy efficiency by 2025, with ambitious standards for new non-residential buildings).
The UK is also well short of the infrastructure, supply and installation capacity required to introduce low-carbon heating at scale. For example, we need to move from 20,000 heat pump installations annually to around a million a year, overcoming poor customer awareness and low market development on the way.
Interestingly, the contribution of BIM, whole-life building performance and even the circular economy was not included in the otherwise comprehensive CCC report, but these processes and approaches could also help to unlock the type of carbon reductions needed in the years ahead.
Going forward, the quality of contractors, products, design and systems will greatly influence success, measured in costs, sustained carbon savings and other benefits. If the work is not done properly and in a coordinated way, there is a real risk of ‘sub-optimal installation at scale’. All this means that ECA will be lobbying continually for quality work, delivered by quality contractors.
 About this article
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Allowable solutions.
- Carbon capture and storage.
- Carbon emissions.
- Carbon negative.
- Carbon Plan.
- Carbon ratings for buildings.
- Carbon Takeback Obligation CTBO.
- Climate change Act.
- Code for Sustainable Homes.
- Domestic micro-generation.
- Emission rates.
- Energy performance certificate.
- Fabric first.
- Getting zero carbon done.
- Green building.
- Home Quality Mark.
- National Design Guide.
- Nearly zero-energy building.
- Net zero carbon 2050.
- Net zero carbon buildings.
- Zero Bills Home.
- Zero carbon non-domestic buildings.
- Zero carbon task group.
 External references
- Zero Carbon Hub: Low Carbon Buildings and Homes, Skills and Opportunities, Phase 1 Report.
- The Zero Carbon Hub: Zero carbon homes.
- Building Regulations Part L 2013 Consultation.
- The Energy Act 2011.
- The Carbon Plan.
- The Planning Portal: Code for Sustainable Homes.
- Zero carbon compendium: Who's doing what in housing worldwide.
- CLG: Open consultation: Next steps to zero carbon homes: allowable solutions. August 2013.
- Zero Carbon Hub: Zero Carbon Strategies for Low and Zero Carbon Homes|.
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