What is ‘net zero’ and what impact will it have on the current jobs market?

In 2015, the UK government, along with 200 other countries, signed the legally binding Paris agreement. This committed the UK to reduce CO2 emissions and adopt a clean energy strategy by 2050. Since then, the term ‘net zero’ has been at the forefront of our news bulletins creating a great deal of confusion as to what this actually means, and what impact it will have our future.

Going ‘net zero’ is a radical concept of eliminating the use of fossil fuels as an energy source and replacing them with renewable energy such as ‘green’ electricity and gas alternatives like hydrogen. 

Future Homes Standard

The UK now produces less than 1% of all global CO2 emissions, with industrial processes, agriculture, and waste management accounting for 19% of all the country’s greenhouse gas discharges.

However, that still leaves 14% of all UK greenhouse gases coming from domestic consumption, mainly gas boilers. That is why, in 2019, the government announced they were banning gas boilers in domestic homes from 2023. However, that date proved to be unsustainable and has now been replaced with the ‘Future Homes standard’ that sets energy efficiency standards for new homes and extensions.

Effective from 2025, the new regulations enhance the current building regulations with the additional caveat that all new homes built from 2025 will have to produce up to 80% less carbon emissions than at present. In the short term, Building Regs will be updated next year to include that all new homes must produce 31% lower carbon emissions in readiness for the new 2025 standards.

In addition, from this date no homes will be connected to the gas supply and will require energy efficient insulation and a low carbon heating source such as a heat pump. According to the Committee on Climate Change, once the gas boiler ban is operational, it is estimated that 2.5m heat pumps will need to be installed to meet the government’s net zero target.

What impact will this have on the building services recruitment sector?

If the government is serious in its commitment to achieving net zero, then the opportunities for anyone currently working in the industry, such as mechanical & electrical engineers, or anyone considering a technical career in the sector, are going to be huge.

There are many reasons for this. To start with, out of the 27m homes in the UK, only around 1m use a low carbon heating system. That means, around 80% of UK housing stock is connected to the National Grid and receiving high carbon natural gas – and that’s before we start considering non-domestic buildings.

It’s quite clear that that to achieve net zero, there has to be a sea change in the way we power our buildings, and we have a long way to go if we want to achieve the net zero target date of 2050. 

As we have seen in recent months with gas and fuel shortages, the government must do more to enable this to happen. Even the UK ban on new diesel and petrol car sales from 2040 and the prohibition of new gas boilers is only going to scratch the surface.

After all, 78% of all current CO2 emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels to generate our electricity, transportation, energy consumption in industrial buildings and plant and domestic heating.

Undoubtedly, the UK has achieved significant improvements, over the years, in reducing emissions in the energy supply sector with its increased use of renewables such as solar and wind power. However, much remains to be done just to meet even its previous target of 80% less emissions by 2050.

Having said all that, achieving net zero will bring major benefits to the UK, both from a social and financial angle. It does, however, come at a cost. In 2019, it was estimated that going 100% net zero would cost the UK taxpayer around £70b per year or over £1 trillion by 2050. Figures that will, undoubtedly, be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

How is all this going to be achieved and how many jobs might the programme create?

The first step is to consider all the options currently being put forward.

The Climate Change Committee say that if the UK embarks on a programme of retrofitting heat pumps, we will need around 60,000 extra plumbers and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning engineers. That’s in addition to the upskilling of 350,000 technical staff by 2028.

As we said earlier, all this depends on the government maintaining its commitment to the net zero challenge. They were, after all, going to publish in the first half of this year, an updated strategy for heating both domestic and non-domestic buildings through the Renewable Heat Incentive – a scheme that rewards users for using renewable energy to heat their premises. This has now been delayed until next year.

However, this should not put us off from preparing for the introduction of low carbon heating, as this is just one of the options available. We have also seen, from the recent demonstrations by the Insulate Britain eco warriors, there is a growing appetite from UK’s residents to decarbonise their homes.

In fact, according to former political advisor to the conservative party and founding member of ‘Public First’, Rachel Wolf, ‘around 50% of surveyed adults (2000 interviews) were in favour of an outright ban on domestic gas boilers in the next ten years. The survey also discovered that 75% of those polled were keen to switch from their gas guzzling gas boiler to an alternative greener air, ground and water source heat pump, or other renewable energy source such as solar, thermal and biomass etc.

The proviso being that there were government grants to offset the extra cost of such installations. This response from the UK public should give the government the confidence to introduce a staged programme for achieving ‘net zero’.

Upskill and retrain

This reinforces the need for current technical staff to upskill as well as opening up new opportunities for those wanting to enter the industry. We welcome you contacting us to discuss this further.

While achieving net zero in the agreed time scale is indeed a challenge, the cost of creating renewable energy is falling all the time. Wind and Solar being two examples where production costs have reduced over the past two years.

Of course, net zero is not just about money, despite the fact, there are significant savings from investing in a low carbon fuel supply. The population’s well-being will be boosted by the improvement in air quality which in turn should lead to a reduced strain on the NHS.

The colour of the future is definitely green. As a nation, the UK is committed by law to achieving net zero by 2050 along with Sweden, France, Denmark, and New Zealand, with the EU, Chile and Fiji expected to follow shortly.

This means the potential for re-trained technical staff in the buildings services sector as well as new employees is almost unlimited. We are in no doubt that we will require an ‘army’ of highly skilled tradespeople to decarbonise the UK over the next 30 years.

This not only includes the conversion of individual users to alternative fuel sources but also the potential of using hydrogen as a domestic fuel utilising the existing gas supply network.

According to the government’s ‘clean growth plan’ there’s a very real prospect of being able to replace oil, coal, and LPG heating from off grid properties with renewable energy alternatives before the end of this decade.

If you are also planning ahead and are looking into ways to keep your qualifications up to date, or to even re-train, we can help. Our vast network of training providers can set you off in the right direction so our recruiters can find you the perfect job to match your skills and experience.

Contact us on 01709 820102 or enquiries@multitaskpersonnel.co.uk to discuss your options in more detail.

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Finance & Operations, Research & Development – Sheffield
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