How To Heat Our Houses Without Harming The Environment

Issue 74

Back in July' I wrote in Northern Insight about a more environmental future. The recent issues with fuel shortages once again demonstrate the fragility of our dependency on carbon fuel sources. Central government figures regularly tell us about the need for a greener future but offer little practical guidance on how this is to be achieved.

Most of us have central heating’ which has increased from just 33% in 1970 to over 95% today.

The majority of homes have gas fired systems’ which produce carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas is contributing to the problem of burning of fossil fuels and it is estimated that a quarter of the UK greenhouse emissions come from our homes.

We are told gas boilers will be outlawed in 2025′ but this is only for new builds’ so what about the vast majority of existing homes? There is only vague talk of a mid-2030s date and the need to swap for heat pumps or replacing them with hydrogen boilers. Currently’ heat pumps are more expensive – a ground source heat pump system will cost around £10-15k while an air source heat pump is costing £5-8k for a typical British family house. If you contrast this to a gas boiler at only £2k’ then the average family simply can’t afford to swap’ even if they want to do so.

We need to see real incentives and grants to encourage the switch away from gas-fired heating to electric heating systems. There have been various grants in recent years’ but most are currently being phased out or have gone already such as FIT (Feed-in Tariff)’ RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive)’ green deals. So’ where are the new plans?

We have an energy group at HL where we review the latest information’ technology’ and legislation to enable us to advise clients. In one of the groups’ is a young architect who is starting a family in his newly purchased 1960 home – refurbishing with improvements to insulation and decoration. He wants to change his boiler but simply can’t afford to do so. Surely’ we must be encouraging people when renovating homes to swap and not be penalised?

So’ what about hydrogen? Well’ there is research’ and it would be wise to swap over the existing gas network’ but that is a decade away and the costs will be even higher than the current gas network.

More pressing is the current increase in prices’ which brings with it further issues – financial’ political and social problems. People will struggle to pay the increases. Yet if we are to switch people from gas to electric heating then the current cost of electricity needs to come down and gas to go up. However’ this will affect the poorest sectors of our society: so’ the difficult problem exists of how to impose green surcharges. Bizarrely the current surcharges are on electric bills with a 25% charge while gas only attracts a 6% surcharge. Surely this needs to be swapped around’ but again’ it will have an effect on society.

The recent tax increases on NI contributions and increasing fuel costs have political implications and I can see this slowing down the changes needed to domestic properties. I would advocate a series of incentives’ ranging from grants like the RHI being extended past March 2022 and the dates for gas boilers need to be brought forward for replacement’ creating cheaper heat pumps or at least grants to help install.

I would go further with low council tax bills for greener houses or even stamp duty variations on those with lower EPC ratings’ all to encourage the investment that needs to be made. The analogy to cars is similar with different tax rates on cleaner electric cars over diesel cars.

The recent months have shown that green energy is a problem for today and not one we can ignore.

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