Sheffield needs a ‘Renewable Valley’ if we are to hit zero carbon targets

Can we fit 200,000 heat pumps in Sheffield homes by 2030?

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 12:00 am
Installing a Heat Pump taken by Paul Padgham.

In my last column I wrote about the report Pathways to Zero Carbon Sheffield which was commissioned by Sheffield Council from Arup. The final part of the report is due soon. I have been gauging opinions about it. Does it go far enough? Will it be possible to meet its targets?

One of the most significant changes proposed in the report is to the way we heat our homes. We can’t continue to burn natural gas if we are to meet our Paris commitments to restrict global heating to 1.5 degrees. So the report advocates fitting 200,000 air source heat pumps in our homes by 2030. This is not out of step with Government policy. Boris Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution includes measures to replace 600,000 gas boilers with air source heat pumps every year from 2028, though the Government leaves open the possibility of heating homes with Hydrogen fuel.

To convert our homes to renewable energy will be a huge task, reminiscent of the days when houses were converted from coal to central heating. First we need to train the trainers. The trainers then need to re-skill the heating engineers working for the energy companies and local plumbing firms. We will need thousands of new apprentices who will need three years training.

Paul Leedham.

I spoke to Paul Leedham, chair of training for the Ground Source Heat Pump Association who also runs Matrix Energy Systems in Sheffield. He believes it will be possible to scale up the industry and is already considering how to do it. Paul has a vision for our region to become a centre of excellence for the heat pump industry. He envisages a “Renewable Valley” where we can manufacture the products needed to supply this energy revolution, creating thousands of jobs and ensuring the UK has a reliable supply of the products we will need. Renewable Valley would also be where universities and colleges offer the training required for this new generation of heating installers. I have written to Dan Jarvis, the City Region Mayor, to see if he shares this vision and will be able to offer the funding necessary to kick start it.

Fitting the air source heat pumps is only part of the problem though. Since they work at lower temperatures than gas boilers, a home must be sufficiently insulated. The heat lost through the walls, roof and floors must be minimised to enable efficient operation, so the city will need a massive programme to retrofit homes. Meanwhile 1.7 million gas boilers are installed in UK homes every year. This has to stop now!

Other reactions to the report came from Green New Deal South Yorkshire and Extinction Rebellion. GND UK commented: “We think that Pathways to Net Zero is a good start, it’s very detailed on retrofit, heat pumps and solar energy, including costs and numbers of households. On the other hand it does not adequately cover the nature recovery or food or consumerism. For example, developing nature friendly farming could help nature recovery significantly and create local jobs.”

Food is a massive issue and the council could be influential in helping us to reduce the amount of meat in our diet and hence reduce our carbon emissions. Reducing the amount of meat served in school dinners and increasing the other options would make a big difference.

Paul Leedham installing a new boiler.

Darcy White and Ci Davis from XR Sheffield had many criticisms of the report. “There is no discussion of fundamental problems associated with growth and consumption – while there is emphasis on local people needing to be educated and made aware of the seriousness of the disaster there appears to be an unwillingness to direct them to the root cause – overconsumption and the impossibility of growth on a finite planet.”

“It is almost certainly too late to achieve the Paris target of a 1.5 degrees limit – so to have a chance of limiting to below two degrees it is essential that we act now.”

Despite its shortcomings the report is a significant start, and gives the council an action plan to follow. Campaigners need to support politicians and businesses to make it a reality.