Whoever leads the next UK government, home energy should be viewed as a national security issue

Whichever party leads the next government should see home heating as a national security concern, states Thomas Farquhar, CCO and co-founder of Liverpool-based clean tech start-up Heatio.

Here Thomas shares his thoughts on some of the key energy issues currently facing the UK.

Energy independence

The UK is dangerously reliant on both gas and oil. That erodes our sovereignty as it makes us vulnerable to the whims of those countries selling us their fossil fuels. Our reliance on other nations to heat and energise our homes means we need to consider their demands in our foreign policies. We may disagree with the harsh regimes and anti-gay laws of Middle Eastern countries, yet we still need to court them diplomatically as we need their oil. It exposes us ethically, ecologically and economically.

For years now, commitment to a low carbon future and energy security in UK homes has been a can kicked further down the road by each and every government.

Forward-thinking countries are sitting pretty and enjoying their cheaper renewable energy sources while we in the UK endure painful price hikes. In Italy, 23% of homes have solar PV installed, compared to just 4% in the UK.

Reducing reliance on foreign oil and gas limits vulnerability to geopolitical tensions and supply disruptions, enhancing national sovereignty over energy resources.

Economic stability

Fluctuations in energy prices can have profound impacts on the national economy. An ever-increasing percentage of the population falls deeper into fuel poverty each winter – leaving families and older people vulnerable and living in truly tragic conditions. An innovative energy policy could eradicate needless fuel poverty.

Other European countries look at the UK and scratch their heads at our backward thinking. Norway weaned itself off gas years ago, and now sits on huge stores of gas while using low carbon energy sources. 66% of homes in Norway, with its colder, Arctic climate, successfully heat their homes with heat pumps. In the meantime, in the UK, we continue to install 1.7 million gas boilers each year, which are three times less efficient than heat pumps. 

Yet, instead of transitioning to such intelligent, sustainable practices, we allow the gas boiler industry to feed UK consumers with a campaign of misinformation around heat pumps. As a result, householders are confused and distrustful of heat pump technology, which is no more complicated than the heater in your car, or the fridge in your kitchen.  

Infrastructure resilience

Our national grid was built in 1938 and ever since, demand has soared. With more electronic devices, energy guzzling servers and burgeoning number of EVs, capacity needs to keep up with demand.

Yet, the supply of energy to the national grid has also evolved rapidly over the past few years. Think of the national grid as a tree, with a central trunk and bigger branches reaching across the country, expanding into smaller branches into town and city, and into every home. Whereas gas and coal power stations were built relatively central in the UK, now we rely more on coastal wind turbines to power the national grid ‘in reverse’, meaning a huge amount of energy is sent up the smaller branches first, towards the tree trunk. That’s a lot of energy and not much capacity.

Increasing amounts of energy is being produced by turbines in Scotland and in the North Sea, yet the demand is increasing from the densely populated south of England. The national grid cannot deal with so much electricity efficiently or effectively. As a result, turbines are often needed to be switched off on the windiest days, so as to not overload the system. As consumers, we are paying hundreds of millions of pounds extra for the turbines to be shut off – adding on average £40 to our bills in 2023 and increasing to £150 for each home by 2026.

At the same time, the National Grid regularly warns of blackouts each winter and the government has put emergency plans into practice for seven-day blackouts. How can we progress as a modern nation when our energy supply is so vulnerable to bad or cold weather? In addition, with storms ever more frequent and severe due to climate change, thousands of homes are left without power for days on end each autumn and winter. This unacceptable situation puts the elderly, very young and those with disabilities or needing at-home care, in very precarious, and indeed in some cases life-threatening situations. Not to mention the financial impact on businesses and disruption to NHS services.

We have enough energy in the UK, we just need to use it better. Smart technology can transform home energy usage both within the home, but also in the grid. We’ve developed AI-driven virtual power plants that can allow individual homes to become self-sufficient, and move the oversupply of energy flexibly around the national grid, so we can become more self-sufficient as a nation, and a stronger contender in the world.

Self-sufficient energy generation

By generating our own power in residential homes, we can ensure a more reliable energy supply and have greater control over energy costs. This reduces the demand on the national grid and fossil fuels.

Technological sovereignty

Developing and deploying domestic energy technologies, including renewables, will position our country as a leader in innovation rather than a follower of foreign technology.

We can become a leader in green technology, potentially driving economic growth through the creation of jobs, from manufacturing through to installation and maintenance. Only a tiny fraction of gas boiler installers are well-trained in heat pump technology; the smartest ones have already retrained to maximise the opportunities of the growing heat pump industry. The economic benefits are enormous and expansive. By freeing up the consumer purse by lowering and stabilising energy prices, you boost economic growth. 

Environmental security

Finally, the significance of heat pumps in the future of the UK’s environmental landscape cannot be overstated. Heat pumps work, and are the future.

Heat pumps are compatible with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. This compatibility helps in increasing the adoption of renewables by ensuring that even when direct solar or wind energy isn’t available, the stored energy can be efficiently used to power heat pumps for heating purposes. This integration helps in reducing reliance on fossil fuels and promoting a more sustainable energy ecosystem.

The transition to sustainable home heating is not just about technology adoption; it’s about preparing for a secure, prosperous, and sustainable future. 

Whoever promises to do that gets my vote.

Image credit: Heatio