Rishi Sunak has taken the first steps towards a net zero path that works for all
The Prime Minister’s decision yesterday to push back the ban on gas boilers is welcome news for hardworking families.
Most people accept the imperative to get to net zero. Our own research and polling shows substantial support. But the consensus reduces when the cost implications are explained. We simply cannot expect the UK public to cope with rising costs at a time when many are struggling to pay their energy bills.
The truth is that we must reach net zero to strengthen the UK’s energy security and bring down bills for the long-term. It’s a necessity rather than a nice to have. But net zero should be approached in a way that works for everyone. As the Prime Minister set out, the way to do this isn’t blunt bans or virtue signalling.
Instead, a long-term plan, one which balances costs with progress, is needed for the clean energy transition ahead of us. That is the way to maintain public support, rather than inflicting rising costs that many were simply unable to afford.
What should this plan look like?
It starts with an acceptance of the realities. We will not reach net zero if we continue to believe that one energy solution will work for the UK. Our current grid contains a mix of energy sources: natural gas, biomethane, renewables, hydroelectricity, and coal. The heating systems currently in people’s homes are usually gas, oil or electric. We have this choice of options as different people need different things, depending on where they live, how much their heating system costs, and personal preference.
Heat pumps, which run off electricity rather than gas, are an excellent option for some but they are expensive to install - at £13,000 on average. Even with yesterday’s announcement that the government will raise their grant for heat pumps by 50% to £7,500, that cost is still prohibitive for most and the most vulnerable in our society must not bear the burden.
They also require lots of renovations to your home – for example larger radiators, double glazing, and insulation. Even the government has recognised this is a significant and costly process – confirming yesterday that it would scrap policies forcing landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties. Heat pumps also require space – a luxury that many people don’t have. On top of this, if everyone was to buy a heat pump, the UK simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to run them all, nor to electrify all the industry and commercial buildings we have. Solely using electricity isn’t a viable plan to deliver net zero.
So we need to continue offering this choice on the road to net zero – which is why the news that no one will be expected to rip out their gas boilers is welcome for many families. But if we are to eventually replace gas in people’s homes, which is a robust and secure energy supply, then we need a genuine alternative to take its place.
The news that no one will be expected to rip out their gas boilers is welcome for many families
Hydrogen can be one of those alternatives. It is a weapon in the battle to net zero as green hydrogen does not produce carbon dioxide. It is good for our energy security; it can be produced and stored at scale here in the UK. We also have the infrastructure we need: the UK has 284,000km of gas pipes which can be repurposed for hydrogen with minimal disruption.
Developing an industrial base for hydrogen isn’t just desirable, it is essential.
We have a unique opportunity to make the UK a hydrogen powerhouse and lead the world in home grown energy production, use and storage. With it will come all of the benefits of a hydrogen economy, including hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions of pounds worth of investment – but only if the government steps up its support now.
Active policy and well-targeted funding have helped make renewables commercially viable and accelerated development. The same is happening with hydrogen, but we need to go further and faster. This includes committing to early decisions and funding for “no regrets” infrastructure to connect large industrial centres of demand and create a single economy for hydrogen, as the government has recognised.
This is of course no silver bullet. The development of a scaled hydrogen industry in Britain is only one part of the sensible road to a clean energy future. It is nonetheless a practical step that will help consumers keep costs down – and in turn help politicians maintain support for net zero, a critical public policy goal of our time.
Mark Wild is the Chief Executive Officer of SGN
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