The government has unveiled a £3.9bn plan to bring down the cost of low-carbon heating systems including heat pumps. The strategy aspires to ensure that running more energy-efficient heating technology is at least cost-neutral and potentially cheaper than existing carbon-intensive gas boilers.
The heat and buildings strategy sets out the government’s plan to significantly cut carbon emissions from the UK’s homes and workplaces as a gradual transition which will start by incentivising consumers and driving down costs. There are around 30 million buildings in the UK. Heating these buildings contributes to almost a quarter of all UK emissions. The strategy claims that addressing the carbon emissions produced in heating and powering homes, workplaces and public buildings will save money on energy bills, improve lives, and support up to 240,000 skilled green jobs by 2035, boosting the economic recovery.
The heat and buildings strategy builds on the commitments made in Clean growth: transforming heating, the Energy white paper and the Prime Minister’s 10 point plan. This strategy aims to provide a clear direction of travel for the 2020s, set out the strategic decisions that need to be taken this decade, and demonstrate how the Government intends to meet its carbon targets to remain on track for net zero by 2050.
As part of the strategy, the government announced a £450m boiler upgrade scheme, which will allow homeowners to apply for £5,000 grants to fund the installation of low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps. £450m delivered via individual £5,000 grants means 90,000 heat pump installations over three years. The funding will also go towards funding the next three years of the social housing decarbonisation fund, the home upgrade grant scheme, the heat networks transformation programme, and the public sector decarbonisation scheme.
The funding announced to deliver the transition from traditional boiler heating will not drive the scale of energy efficiency needed across private and rented sectors on a scale that will deliver significant enough changes to build public confidence in alternative technologies to provide warm, healthy homes with reduced emissions.
In addition, and yet again, the Government is reliant on the voluntary uptake of such developments with some arguing that the grant will not provide sufficient incentive to homeowners. There is also a significant issue with regard to a skills shortage as research states that the UK has 1,000 heat pump installers, in comparison with 96,000 gas engineers. There will need to be significant investment in the education of skilled workers to meet the demand.
The announcement, in the run up to COP26, is another in a number of statements made by the Government as it aims to demonstrate its leadership ahead of the summit. Whilst these are positive for the climate and the economy, it is questionable as to whether the Government can deliver on its commitments given the associated challenges including skills-shortages and the lack of regulatory requirement to make changes.