Opinion

We’re better at Eurovision than decarbonising our homes

After the publication of study suggesting that the UK is falling far behind European averages in both sales and installations of heat pumps there have been calls for substantial grants, a switch of energy levies and a ban on new gas boilers. 

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK’s policy director, has expressed his frustrations at the latest data provided by the European Heat Pump Association

“The UK already has the draughtiest homes in western Europe, now we’re last when it comes to clean heating too,” Doug commented. “We perform better in Eurovision than we do decarbonising our homes, and that’s saying something.”

With the UK seemingly falling far behind the rest of Europe in the race to decarbonise home heating, Greenpeace believes that the Government need to ‘get serious’ in their support to deliver decarbonisation in home heating.

Doug calls for: “A substantial grant to support heat pump installations, a shift of levies to gas from electricity, a new agency to oversee changes and a clear signal that there’ll be a ban on new gas boilers by early 2030s.”

With the UK seeing sales of just 1.3 heat pumps per 1,000 households in 2020 and sitting bottom in terms of installations with just 10 per 1,000 households, a massive opportunity exists to significantly increase both and make a real difference.

Grants, levies and boiler bans

Edward Thompson of ICAX, a cleantech company, also agrees that the low tax on gas is hindering the uptake of heat pumps stating: “The key reasons for low heat pumps sales in the UK are the very high tax on electricity and the very low tax on gas.  Heat pumps sales will remain low in the UK until the Government removes the 23% of levies loaded on electricity.”

Other European countries are performing far better in the roll out of heat pumps in an effort to cut carbon emissions. And, as Doug points out, from the UK’s low starting point: “Even if we boosted our installation rate to the government’s proposed target for 2028 of 600,000 per year, our heat pump installation rate per 1000 households would still not exceed that already being achieved by the Scandinavian countries and Estonia.”

Around 85 per cent of homes in the UK are heated using natural gas and, to successfully decarbonise home heating, most will need to convert to heat pumps. Current heat pump installation numbers stand at just 35,000 per year and, with heat pumps costing more than gas boilers, Doug believes there needs to be a proper strategy and investment as there is currently little in the way of state support to encourage homeowners to make the switch.

“If the government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale. This means substantial grants for heat pump installations, especially for the poorest families, removing VAT on green home technologies and a phase out of gas boilers early next decade,” he suggested. 

With the long overdue Heat and Buildings Strategy keenly anticipated a BEIS spokesperson said: “As set out in the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan, we are committed to greatly accelerating the UK’s deployment of heat pumps from around 35,000 this year, to 600,000 a year by 2028.”

“We are confident that the upfront costs will fall in the coming years, and we will look to help the market drive down these costs. We will set out how this will be achieved in the forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy, with fairness and affordability for both households and taxpayers at the heart of our plans.”