Domestic central heating boiler control panel

Set target date for gas boiler phase-out, industry urges

Image credit: Stuart Key/Dreamstime

Industry experts are calling on the government to implement similar measures to those being used to accelerate the take-up of electric vehicles to facilitate the switch from carbon-intensive home heating to alternatives such as heat pumps.

A range of industry experts involved in the transition to clean, reliable and efficient energy proposed a target date for phasing out boilers and grants to help people install heat pumps in order to encourage the transition.

Homes contribute around 15 per cent of the UK’s overall carbon emissions. Reducing these emissions by insulating homes and replacing fossil fuel-based heating systems, mostly gas boilers, will be an important part of meeting Britain’s Paris Agreement obligations and reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Heat pumps work as reverse refrigerators, using electricity to heat water and homes. They require less maintenance, use less energy, and create more jobs than gas boilers, and when powered by renewable resources they do not contribute to carbon emissions or air pollution. However, they remain an expensive option; backers say installation can cost around £10,000 at present, although this figure is expected to fall as the industry scales up.

The government has pledged that 600,000 new heat pumps will be installed every year by 2028. However, industry experts warn that the government’s plans so far will fund just 12,500 homes a year to switch to low-carbon heating systems and ministers have not yet published its long-awaited strategy on the transition to low-carbon heating.

Some industry figures have called for similar measures to those being used to support drivers in the phase-out of new combustion engine vehicles, such as a 2030s phase-out date and grants to make the new technology more accessible. There are also calls to shift green levies away from electricity to make running an electric-powered heat pump a more attractive option.

Jan Rosenow, European director of the Regulatory Assistance Project, which works on accelerating the transition to clean, reliable and efficient energy, said the government needs to face the “thorny issue” of changing the green levies on electricity. Despite heat pumps being far more efficient than gas boilers, they do not necessarily save consumers money given the much higher cost of electricity compared with gas. Green levies account for less than two per cent of gas bills but 23 per cent of electricity bills.

Clementine Cowton, Octopus Energy, said: “Gas boilers have served us well but they’re dirty, inefficient and break down a lot. Electric boilers, powered by heat pumps, are simply a better, more modern product. We expect running costs to fall soon as well. Unbelievably, electricity still carries over 10 times more taxes than dirty gas, but as soon as the Government fixes this oversight and cuts the electricity, electric boilers will be much cheaper to run than gas, making them the safer, cleaner and cheaper choice.”

The government is also facing demands for a new programme to make homes warmer and more energy efficient and to ensure that poorer and otherwise vulnerable households do not face unfair costs.

Rosenow backed a target in the early 2030s to phase out new fossil fuel boilers, telling the PA news agency: “I think it’s a very important component, I don’t think without that, if it was just based on some tweaks to the levies, some financial incentives, it will be enough to drive the market forward and also give clarity that this is going to happen, it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to happen, and the market will get ready for it.”

Bean Beanland, a director for the Heat Pump Federation, recommended first target should be phasing out oil boilers with support for rural communities to make the switch. He also backed a long-term phase out date.

“From government, we need some genuine leadership, fundamentally, we must stop burning fossil fuels, they’ve got to make a very clear statement,” said Beanland. He added that the government could lead the transition by covering the cost of installing heat pumps in social housing and public buildings.

Last month, a coalition of more than 20 companies and advocacy groups urged the government to offer grants to low-income households to cover the cost of heat pump installation as part of a “fair heat deal”. British Gas has also asked the government to provide a fund to support retrofitting, helping consumers transition from gas boilers to hybrid heating systems which draw on both gas and electricity to heat their homes. Centrica, which owns British Gas, called for an initial target of 5,000 installations by 2024, followed by a broader rollout in line with the independent Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation to deploy 10 million hybrid heating systems by 2035.

A spokesperson for the business department commented: “We are already leading the way to ensure affordability and fairness are at the heart of our plans to cut emissions from heating, and more detail on our approach will be provided in the upcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy. We are supporting lower income households and vulnerable people to make homes greener and cut energy bills, and will continue to do so through schemes such as the Home Upgrade Grant and the new Clean Heat Grant from April next year.”

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