We will not achieve net zero without more support for decarbonising homes
The Business Department’s repeated delays in publishing the Heat and Buildings Strategy means there is no policy framework, timelines or priorities set out by the government for industry.
The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recent progress report was clear. The Government’s climate leadership is undermined by inadequate policies and poor implementation in many areas. One area in which the government urgently needs put this right is on decarbonising heat.
The CCC say sales of new gas boilers should be stopped by 2033 and that people will mostly convert to heat pumps instead, with others using shared sources of heat via heat networks. There is no question this will involve disruption, and the CCC says ministers will have to subsidise the installation cost.
Decarbonising domestic heating is a major challenge to delivering net zero
On the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee we are taking a keen interest as part of our inquiry on decarbonising heating in homes. Certainly, from what we have heard it’s clear that decarbonising domestic heating is a major challenge to delivering net zero due to the scale, complexity, and cost. But it is also a great opportunity, improving the quality of people’s homes, reducing energy bills, stimulating investment into UK manufacturing and creating demand for thousands of jobs across the country.
The scale of the challenge and opportunity becomes clearer when we consider domestic heat accounts for 13 per cent of the UK’s annual emissions footprint. Of the approximately 29 million homes in the UK, less than five per cent of the heat used is from low-carbon sources, and our housing stock is one of the oldest and worst insulated in Europe. Government inaction is making the task harder – the Business Department’s repeated delays in publishing the Heat and Buildings Strategy means there is no policy framework, timelines or priorities set out by the government for industry. In this scenario, it is hardly a surprise that progress is limited.
The move from gas boilers to low carbon heating sources, such as electric heat pumps, brings high upfront costs. Today, heat pumps costs are in the range of £9,000 to £19,000 depending on the type of heat pump installed. This compares to around £2,000 to £3,000 for a new gas boiler. These can be offset to a large extent, and at the household level, if energy efficiency measures are installed in all homes to reduce the amount of electricity that consumers need to buy.
The need to go further and faster is highlighted by the reality that current incentives delivered via the Renewable Heat Incentive have not encouraged many households to switch to low carbon heating. For example, in 2018, 27,000 heat pumps were installed in homes across the UK – this compares with to 1.7 million gas boiler installations.
In the sixth Carbon Budget report, the CCC stated we need closer to 27 million heat pumps. At the current rate, it will take more than 1,000 years to meet that target. The PM’s 10-point plan, launched in November 2020, committed to a target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. But the termination of the Green Homes Grant and the looming end of the Renewable Heat Incentive, means there is a gaping hole in the support schemes necessary to encourage take-up of low carbon heating systems.
On the BEIS committee, we look forward to coming forward in the autumn with a report and recommendations for government on how to turbo-charge efforts to decarbonise heating in homes and which addresses some of the central issues of engaging the public, scaling up technologies and protecting consumers and the fuel poor.
Darren Jones is the Labour MP for Bristol North West and chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
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