Home heating is integral to prevent another gas crisis in the UK
Getting off gas for good is a non-negotiable goal to tackle the climate crisis. The ongoing gas crisis and subsequent cost of living crisis are two disastrous symptoms of an over-reliance on foreign fossil gas markets, worsened by government policy.
Recently, Ofgem announced a massive 54 per cent increase in the energy price cap, with average bills reaching nearly £2,000 - an increase of £700. The government is right to introduce short-term measures to mitigate some of the pressure on households. But the long-term response to the crisis is what will impact generations to come.
This situation underlines the fact that we must find long-term solutions to redouble our efforts and set ourselves free from fossil fuel gas. Renewable energy is the answer to the gas crisis, but this must be accompanied by changes in the way we heat our homes and huge improvements to energy efficiency.
Recently, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee found that the government is failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heating the UK’s homes, with little sign of a plan. To make matters worse, in 2016 the Conservative government scrapped the zero carbon homes standard which saved households roughly £200 per year on energy bills. Cumulatively, this cost owners of new homes £234m last year and £790m since 2016.
The government must step up to double down on tackling the climate crisis starting with how we heat our homes. As it stands, 85 per cent of homes in the UK are connected to the gas grid. This compounds our reliance on volatile international gas markets which is why we find ourselves in the current situation with energy prices soaring.
A net zero heating policy that ends up with fossil fuel derived heat being tax-free and clean power highly taxed isn’t worth the name
There are some encouraging signs from the government, including the Heat and Buildings Strategy which added more detail to government plans to reach 600,000 heat pumps installed a year by 2028. However, looking at heat pumps in particular the government must focus on training, trust, and tariffs.
Presently, there is a skills shortage for high quality installations of heat pumps across the UK. Analysis by the Heat Pump Association suggests that we will need at least 50,200 heat pump installers by 2030. This is a huge increase from the 2,000 qualified heat pump engineers that we have today. However, the training isn’t difficult and new courses are being launched. The recently launched campaign to Electrify Heat has set a target of 25,000 fully qualified installers by 2025. If installation costs are to fall in the way we need them to, we will need these skilled installers.
Most households will need advice and support from a respected source before making the change to low carbon heat. At the moment, there is little public awareness of heat pump and their technology. This has to change, especially if we are to reach net zero and decarbonise home heating. There are important lessons to be learned here from Home Energy Scotland, where tailored advice and loans have helped 1,221 households install more than 1,247 renewable measures.
Providing the correct financial incentives on energy bills will shift people to adopt clean heating. As I write this, fossil fuel gas is somehow cheaper than clean electricity as a result of the way that bills are structured – and the fact that around 25 per cent of an electricity bill consists of legacy costs and levies. There must be a plan for addressing this in a timely and socially just manner. A net zero heating policy that ends up with fossil fuel derived heat being tax-free and clean power highly taxed isn’t worth the name.
In short, the gas crisis compounds what we already know - our reliance on fossil fuel gas must end. And the government must factor in the role of homes and heating in getting off gas for good.
This is the year that we start to get off gas for good. The EU saw a record number of heat pumps installed in 2021 (around 2 million, 400,000 of which were installed in France). Time for the UK to play catch up.
Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath.
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