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Delivering an affordable net zero future for rural areas

Credit: Calor Gas

Calor Gas

4 min read Partner content

Rural MPs agree that all solutions must be on the table to help off-grid households decarbonise.

Earlier this month, rural MPs debated the future of off-gas grid home and business heating in Westminster Hall, as these properties will be the first to transition to low carbon heating solutions in just a few years’ time.

The government’s heat and buildings strategy, published in October last year, provides proposals to decarbonise home heating, with plans to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes, and phasing out the installation of fossil fuel gas and oil boilers for all homes by 2035.

The government has proposed a ‘rural first’ approach to the transition: phasing out the replacement of fossil fuel boilers in rural homes from 2026 (and in some businesses from 2024), nearly a decade earlier than homes connected to the gas grid.

Calor’s recent YouGov survey suggests that only 54% of off-gas grid homeowners were aware of this policy, and only 42% would consider replacing their heating system as a result. The debate in Westminster Hall allowed rural MPs, who predominantly represent off-gas grid communities, to question the government’s rationale for tackling rural properties first, the choice of low-carbon heating solutions permitted, and how it intends to support them on this transition.

One of the issues touched upon was the need for greater support to transform rural energy efficiency levels. Energy efficiency levels in rural properties are much lower than typical urban ones, with only 3% of off-grid homes rated EPC C or better, according to ONS data. Many will therefore need extensive improvements to their insulation and heating system – including replacement radiators, hot water tanks, new windows and doors – for an electric heat pump, the government’s preferred technology, to work effectively. But while heat pumps are undoubtedly a key technology for decarbonising heating, they cost considerably more to install than conventional boilers, and much more in a typical off-gas grid home.

The government has bet on industry slashing heat pumps costs so they are affordable. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme typically provides £5,000 grant towards the cost of low carbon heating systems. But even with this financial help, heat pumps are still likely to work out more expensive than a conventional gas boiler. In fact, estimates for retrofitting them on existing homes range from £12,000 to more than £30,000, depending on the complexity of the job, reflecting both the high cost of heat pumps and retrofit measures.

The government’s current heat pump first strategy means there is less focus on other options

Rural MPs questioned whether off-gas grid properties should be the guinea pigs for the UK’s heating transition, suggesting the government should initially target fossil fuel bans at homes more suitable to the early adoption of heat pumps, particularly post 1970s homes, where energy efficiency levels are adequate for heat pumps. Calor strongly advocates that the government should adopt a ‘heat pump ready’ approach, targeting the most suitable homes for deployment first.

Calor’s consumer research also confirms off-gas grid households want to choose from a range of low-carbon heating options, and they do not expect to pay more for their heating system than a conventional boiler. Calor’s green gas BioLPG (sold as Futuria Liquid Gas) is produced from renewable feedstocks and can be dropped into existing LPG heating systems today, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 86%. It also does away with the upfront cost and disturbance often associated with installing a heat pump.

Rural MPs agreed that a range of solutions will be needed to decarbonise heat across the UK’s 30m buildings. But the government’s current heat pump first strategy means there is less focus on other options. Sustainable biofuels and hybrid heat pumps can make the transition easier, faster, and more affordable for the two million rural homes going first.

This article was published in The Path To Net Zero, a special report to mark Net Zero Week 2022, with contributions from Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, Alex Burghart MP and Kerry McCarthy MP. Read more here.

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