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How to make the transition to low carbon heating fair

Calor Gas say the Government should change its approach when it comes to ramping up heat pump installations | Credit: Calor Gas

Calor Gas

5 min read Partner content

The Government should target ‘heat pump ready’ homes first, and not rural homes, to ramp up heat pump installations quickly.

Few doubt the need to tackle the climate crisis urgently, but also fairly. A fair approach is vital for the next big Net Zero challenge: lowering emissions from our home heating – which accounts for some 14% of total UK emissions – as these policies will directly affect our homes and how much they cost to heat. Policy must command popular support, and be seen as fair to succeed.

The Government is following a ‘rural first’ approach, intending to start the phase out of fossil fuel heating in rural homes off the gas grid – potentially from 2026 –  seven years earlier than the mooted 2033 phase-out start date for homes on the gas grid. Many in rural communities will ask if this approach is fair, given the move to lower carbon heating can be very disruptive and often comes with higher upfront and running costs than their existing heating. The government expects the higher technology costs to reduce over time, but rural homes will not benefit if they are required to change their heating first.

The cost of moving many rural properties over to electric heat pumps – and necessary energy efficiency improvements – is much higher than the Committee on Climate Change’s national average figure of £9k. Only 3% of off grid homes in England have an Energy Performance Certificate of band C or higher. A typical old, detached, solid walled rural home would cost on average over £30k to make ‘heat pump ready’ and install a heat pump. The government’s anticipated Heat and Building Strategy must provide clarity on the important question of ‘who pays?’.

A better approach than ‘rural first’ would be ‘heat pump ready first’: target initial heat pump deployment at those homes ready – without upgrade – to take a heat pump whether they are on the gas grid or not. The Energy Utilities Alliance’s report thinks this may be 7 – 10 million homes out of the UK’s 23 million homes. We are more likely to achieve the government’s ambitious target of 600k heat pump installs a year by 2028 if we urgently target all heat pump ready homes, rather than only the 2m rural homes off the gas grid and new build. Why start with the most difficult homes? Much better to start with the easiest, which will help to build skilled installer capacity and supply chains and, most importantly, consumer confidence in heat pump technology before tackling the most challenging properties. If early heat pump installs go badly for even a small minority of households, net zero naysayers in the press will be merciless, and this will delay progress.

At Calor, we supply gas (known as LPG) to British rural homes and businesses off the gas grid, and we fully support the move away from fossil fuels. We have already replaced 8% of all our gas imports with the renewable biofuel BioLPG (a ‘drop in’ replacement for LPG), a co-product of existing biodiesel and sustainable aviation fuel production.

BioLPG is an affordable and available option for those ‘hard to treat’ homes common in rural areas: homes where the move to ‘heat pump ready’ is expensive and disruptive for householders, sometimes prohibitively so. For many rural homes BioLPG represents the most cost effective and least disruptive route to low carbon heating. BioLPG works in existing LPG boilers - without upgrade - and also perfectly complements heat pumps in a hybrid system. The transition to BioLPG from heating oil – the main heating fuel off grid – is also more straightforward and cheaper than a heat pump. Talk of ‘banning boilers’ doesn’t make sense when you have a net zero compatible fuel available like BioLPG.

Let’s get heat pumps in the right home right now

How many homes aren’t suitable for heat pumps in rural areas? If cost is no object, nor the inconvenience and disruption to householders from property upgrades and new heating installations, then BEIS sponsored research suggests over 90% of homes are technically suitable for heat pumps. But in the real world where cost and ‘who pays?’ does matter, as does the amount of disruption to households’ daily life, a more realistic number may be closer to 50%, leaving several hundred thousand rural homes needing alternative to heat pumps. The CCC have modelled around 50% of off grid homes needing technologies other than heat pumps, and independent analysis we commissioned suggests low carbon heating technologies other than heat pumps will be the cheapest option in about 44% of rural properties.

BioLPG also helps reduce demand on rural electricity networks, which may be overwhelmed by an unmanaged shift to electric heating and vehicles. BEIS own modelling suggests the existing rural electricity network could only support 42% deployment of heat pumps in a 1 in 20 winter when electricity demand would be high. So let’s not hold back the ramp up of heat pump installations by focusing on rural first, rather let’s get heat pumps in the right home right now, where ever they are, and for those rural homes unsuitable for heat pumps, we urgently need a supportive policy framework for BioLPG.

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