Central heating boilers 'put climate change goals at risk'

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Technician repairing gas boilerImage source, Getty Images

The UK will not meet its climate change targets without a revolution in home heating, a think tank says.

A report from the cross-party Policy Connect says gas central heating boilers also threaten the UK’s clean air goals.

But a poll conducted among MPs suggests that most do not consider pollution from home heating to be a priority.

That is despite the fact 14% of UK greenhouse gases come from our homes, a similar level to emissions from cars.

In major cities gas boilers are also a main source of nitrogen dioxide emissions.

The government wants low-carbon heat systems to be standard for all new homes built after 2025.

But that will still leave the vast majority of existing homes in the UK with polluting heat systems.

A spokesman for the Treasury said a plan to support the move to sustainable heating systems would go out to consultation later this year.

The task is huge. Policy Connect says more than 20,000 homes a week must switch to low-carbon heating between 2025 and 2050 to meet UK climate goals.

The think tank says many innovations need to be pursued. They include smart systems and controls; more use of the "internet of things"; hydrogen boilers; biogas; electric heat and direct infrared heat among others.

'Critical' period

Policy Connect said future heating systems might also need to supply home cooling as UK temperatures rise along with climate change.

It recommends that the government creates an Olympic-style body to take on the challenge.

The report’s lead author, Joanna Furtado, said: “The next five years are critical for heat decarbonisation in new and existing homes and for meeting our climate targets.

“We need to spark a national conversation on heat as MPs and consumers are still in the dark on the savings greener home heat solutions could offer."

Image source, Getty Images
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Some argue the focus should be on improving insulation in existing homes

She said investment was also needed in re-training and re-skilling the nation’s heating engineers and installers for the low carbon transition.

The document highlights yet another challenge for a government that is already veering away from its medium-term climate goals under the Climate Change Act.

And there's a chicken and egg problem.

Ministers have not yet produced policies to insulate Britain's homes - even though well-insulated homes are essential for some low-carbon heat systems.

A report from the advisory Committee on Climate Change said it would cost £4,800 to install low-carbon heating in a new home, and £26,300 in an existing house.

Major challenge

Steve Turner from the Home Builders Federation says they accept the targets, but wonders if they've got their priorities right.

He told BBC News: "There are significantly greater emissions savings to be made from existing housing on the basis that they are considerably less efficient than new builds.

"Big energy saving could be made in inefficient older homes as opposed to the incremental gains from new builds that are already required to be built to low-carbon standards.

"The cost for retrofitting existing homes would need to be met by owners or government, as opposed to requiring builders to incorporate it into their costs on new homes."

A government spokesperson said: "This report rightly highlights heat as one of the UK's biggest challenges in decarbonisation.

"Heat accounts for more than a third of our current carbon emissions, which is why we're spending £2.8bn to encourage low-carbon heating in both homes and businesses as well as investing in innovation.

"Getting the right mix of technologies to increase energy efficiency is vital. We will also require changes in consumer behaviour as we work towards net zero by 2050."

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin