Reaching for the High Hanging Fruit

According to the Clean Growth Strategy, homes now account for 13 per cent of the UK’s emissions (rising to 22 per cent once electricity use is taken into account). The average household’s energy consumption has fallen by over 17 per cent since 1990, however Ministers have committed to reducing emissions associated with heating from homes and businesses. They must do so quite rapidly (by up to a fifth in 2032) in order to achieve legally binding carbon targets.

Action to reduce heating emissions may be essential but it will lead to a complex task as the UK has an old and highly varied building stock. As I have written previously, buildings connected to the gas grid benefit from one of the most convenient, reliable and cheap (relatively speaking) forms of heating available.

The Government has therefore set out a two-pronged approach. For the vast majority of properties connected to the gas grid, action in the short term will focus on energy efficiency to reduce heating demand. Major decisions need to be taken on electrification (heat pumps) and/or the future use of the gas network (green gas and hydrogen) however these have been put off for the time being. Action to decarbonise heating in rural homes off the gas network is therefore going to be prioritised as a no regrets step.

The Government has sought responses from stakeholders to the ‘Future Framework for Heat in Buildings’ Call for Evidence (deadline 11th June). This marks the beginning of a process to shape future policy to decarbonise off-grid heat.

The logic of going for rural heating first is shaped by the higher carbon intensity of existing off-grid heating options (primarily heating oil, but also solid fuels) and also the fact that as these homes are not served by a gas grid so there is no debate to be had about existing gas infrastructure versus alternatives. Although this logic may be sound, closer inspection suggests it is far from the easy option. Government may be targeting some of the highest hanging fruit for heat decarbonisation.

People living in homes off the gas grid represent a full cross-section of society with varying incomes, access to capital and appetite for change. Research has shown that those in properties off the gas grid tend on average to be wealthier and older compared to on-grid, however where fuel poverty exists, the depth of that fuel poverty is greater.

From a practical perspective, homes in rural areas are likely to be older and more varied in size, age and style with a smaller more geographically spread community of heating engineers to install, service and maintain heating appliances. Properties heated by oil, LPG or solid fuel rely on regular deliveries, however those living in these properties are generally familiar and comfortable with this process.

Cost is one of the defining factors for consumer decision making. Having spoken to officials involved in developing this process, my view is that it is a genuine opportunity for new ideas and evidence to be shared. The ideas with the most value will be those which can radically reduce the cost and hassle of alternative heating options.

If you are involved in any part of the heating sector serving off-grid properties, it may be time to think about the alternative technologies and the long-term role of different options. The answer is of course far from clear; however, I suspect a focus on off-grid heat is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

For more information please contact the author

See the original article from H&V here

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