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We should be proud of our net zero commitments, but need to move forward into delivery

Joss Clarke, Head of External Affairs

Joss Clarke, Head of External Affairs | SGN

4 min read Partner content

Following on from COP27, some may think now is the time to put the breaks on net zero, but now is the time to be doubling down on our climate commitments.

The root cause of the cost-of-living crisis is multifaceted, but one thing is for sure, now is the time to be doubling down on our climate commitments. Net zero and energy security go hand in hand with one another and green technologies can play a leading role in decarbonising our most polluting sectors, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and bring down bills.

One of these sectors, home heating, is arguably the biggest challenge we have in achieving net zero. It’s the second biggest emitting sector with around 30 per cent of our national emissions coming from buildings, but will need changes to each and every one of the 25 million homes connected to gas networks across the UK. Millions of people will be heavily impacted by needing to change how they heat their homes.

The good news is customer research tells us that public support for net zero remains high and in particular there are high levels of support to move to zero carbon heating systems. The challenge we face is moving customers from support to action. Because when you ask customers what action they will personally take and how much they are prepared to pay for a net zero heating system, support dramatically drops.

This action gap, the difference between what people support and what they are prepared to do, is at the heart of the challenge we have to get to net zero. Customers are aware of the climate emergency and want to do their bit. But we shouldn’t be in the business of imposing solutions and expect customers to step up, not least during a cost-of-living crisis. We need solutions that work with customers and the challenges they face in managing their household budgets.

To decarbonise the toughest sectors like home heating, we’re going to need every tool in the box, which gives customers choice and drives down cost in the long term. The UK Government is rightly backing a number of technologies, including heat pumps, and has set a target of installing 600,000 a year by 2028. The Boiler Upgrade scheme, a grant to help install a heat pump, has been the primary driver to encourage people to install the technology. Since the scheme opened in May, 7,231 applications have been made and while uptake has been slower than hoped for, this isn’t evidence to say we shouldn’t back technologies like this. Ultimately, if a customer deems it the right technology for their home and affordable, they should get a heat pump.  

As one of the UK’s gas distribution networks, we’re exploring additional ways we can decarbonise homes. Today, we deliver biomethane to the equivalent of 200,000 homes across the south of England and Scotland and our ambition is to step that upto 450,000 homes within three years. We’re also investing in heat networks which will become a significant part of the decarbonised heat market in the UK. And one of the future options for customers could be hydrogen. Offering a similar customer proposition to natural gas, we are looking into whether the pipes we manage could be repurposed to take on hydrogen in the future. And to offer a glimpse at the future, our world-first H100 Fife project will soon, deliver green hydrogen to homes customers in Levenmouth, Fife. With around 300 customers signed up, we believe this project provides a vision of what could become a reality across the country.

While we should be proud of the net zero commitments we have made as a country, we now need to move forward into delivery. In the home heating space, if we want to lead the world and ensure the 2020s are not a lost decade, policymakers need to double down on all solutions, ensuring all customers have choice in how they heat their homes in the future.

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