Government plans for low carbon heat “lack ambition”, say critics

Government proposals to encourage low carbon heating systems are good but not good enough, critics said today.

The proposals, published in a press release late last night, include grants of £5,000 to replace gas-fired boilers with heat pumps.

But the three-year subsidy, worth £450m, would cover a maximum of 90,000 pumps. The prime minister has set a target of 600,000 by 2028.

Mike Childs, head of science at Friends of the Earth, said the scheme would incentivise only the richest households.

“Of course this is presented to look fantastic, and with industry backing, but a quick glance reveals it to be quite modest.

“£450 million pounds delivered via individual £5,000 grants means 90,000 heat pump installations over three years. That just isn’t very much, and won’t meet the prime minister’s ambition of 600,000 a year by 2028.

“Investment will drive down the cost of heat pumps, and technical innovation plus skills training is a part of this, but so is scale. These grants will only incentivise the best-off households.”

“£950 million pounds over three years for the home upgrade scheme just won’t drive the scale of energy efficiency needed in both private and rented sectors. This is a start, it’s just not a very good one when the many benefits of a really generous scheme are abundantly clear: from warm, healthy homes to slashed emissions, with jobs to boot.”

Kate Blagojevic, head of climate at Greenpeace UK, said:

“While £5,000 grants and a 2035 boiler phase out date are a decent start, they aren’t ambitious enough to adequately tackle emissions from homes or support low income households to switch.

“What’s also missing from these reports is any mention of a programme to insulate the UK’s millions of draughty homes. Low carbon heating must go hand in hand with improving energy efficiency, you can’t have one without the other.

“Then it’s up to the chancellor to deliver the required £12bn a year in his Spending Review to make cutting emissions from homes a reality. Without these other key elements, the strategy will be like a builder who comes without his tools and simply won’t be up the job.”

Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, said:

“We didn’t have a plan before, now we do.

“This is a substantial step forward that lays out clearly the government’s ambitions to cut emissions across the economy over the coming 15 years and beyond.

“It provides much more clarity about what lies ahead for businesses and individuals and the key actions required in the coming decades to deliver a Net Zero nation.

“It also gives the UK a strong basis to be president of the forthcoming COP26 summit. The critical next step is turning words into deeds

“We have begun to assess the strategy in more detail and the extent to which the policies proposed in this strategy deliver their ambition.”

The proposals are part of the heat and buildings strategy, expected since March 2021. The total of new funding in the strategy amounts to more than £3.9 billion, the government said. This includes a £60m innovation fund to make clean heat systems smaller and easier to install and cheaper to run, it said.

The statement said government and industry would work together to “help meet the aim of heat pumps costing the same to buy and run as fossil fuel boilers by 2030, with big cost reductions of between a quarter and a half by 2025 expected as the market expands and technology develops”.

This would support the target for all new heating systems installed in UK homes by 2035 to use low carbon technologies, such as heat pumps, or use new technologies, such as hydrogen-ready boilers, the statement said.

A decision on the potential role for hydrogen in buildings would be made by 2026, the statement said.

The prime minister said:

“As we clean up the way we heat our homes over the next decade, we are backing our brilliant innovators to make clean technology like heat pumps as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers – supporting thousands of green jobs.

“Our new grants will help homeowners make the switch sooner, without costing them extra, so that going green is the better choice when their boiler needs an upgrade.”

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng said:

“Recent volatile global gas prices have highlighted the need to double down on our efforts to reduce Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels and move away from gas boilers over the coming decade to protect consumers in long term.

“As the technology improves and costs plummet over the next decade, we expect low carbon heating systems will become the obvious, affordable choice for consumers. Through our new grant scheme, we will ensure people are able to choose a more efficient alternative in the meantime.”

5 replies »

  1. For many houses, especially older ones, £5 grand might be enough for smaller ones, but insulation should be a primary target as it reduces the energy needed regardless of how one heats one’s home.
    A useful move but most certainly not a game changer.
    And new builds should be mandated to not use gas for anything now, not in 2035. The cost of including high insulation, solar panels and heat pumps at the time of building will be at a much lower cost than retrofitting, but I guess it would be a first for this government to tell the house building industry, known to be regular Conservative party donors, what they must do.

    • We differ on some things but I fully agree with your thoughts above Malcolm. Our housing stock is generally old, a lot pre-war, mainly because we weren’t bombed into oblivion like most European cities who had to re-build. As you say, insulation first, then possibly heat pumps. However many pre-war, and some post war houses are extremely difficult to insulate and often post insulation they have a lot of condensation / damp problems. Presumably this is because they were not designed / built to have cavity wall insulation and or kingspan etc retrofitted. I expect most lofts are now well insulated but the walls / windows are more difficult. It is a no brainer to legislate new builds to be constructed with very high insulation standards, and renewable energy for electricity and heating. This should be a Government priority.

      • This definitely has to be a first, a wholehearted agreement between pro and anti!

        The saying in the retrofit industry (what’s left of it after the government’s recent Green Homes Grant disaster) is “build tight, ventilate right”.

        With old/ heritage buildings you need more natural, breathable insulation materials and, ideally, a whole house ventilation system that minimises heat losses, expels moisture and maintains indoor air quality. There are ways around it, what’s needed is a good designer who understands building physics.

        • Currently old style septic tanks have to be changed to sewage treatment systems when house ownership changes. This seems a sensible system as the associated costs come from the sale price of the house.

          Why not do the same with insulation etc? The house must be upgraded to meet certain insulation standards and incorporate green energy heating plus PV?

          Perhaps a Government grant for properties below a certain price?

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