Kwarteng on Heat and Buildings Strategy: time to "double down" on UK fossil fuel dependency

Energy & Climate Change

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has argued that the recent volatility in gas prices has "highlighted the need to double down on our efforts to reduce Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels", as the government announced its new Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Key to the above is a move away from gas-fired boilers to low-carbon heating systems, such as ground source heat pumps. £3.9 billion of new funding for decarbonising heat and buildings from 2022 to 2025 announced as part of the strategy is broken down as follows:

  • £1.425 billion through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme
  • £950 million for the Home Upgrade Grant scheme
  • £800 million for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund
  • £450 million for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (grants of £5,000 per household from April 2023)
  • £338 million for the Heat Network Transformation Programme

A new £60 million Heat Pump Ready innovation programme was also announced, part of the £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. The scheme will provide funding to drive technological innovation to make smaller, cheaper to run and easier to install systems over the coming years.

It is hoped the above will support 240,000 jobs across the UK by 2035.

To answer the inevitable cost vs benefit question when it comes to heat pumps, government announced it will be working in tandem with industry to help meet the aim of heat pumps costing the same to buy and run as fossil fuel boilers by 2030 as well as offering a reassurance that "no-one will be forced to remove their existing fossil fuel boilers" as we transition away from them over the next 14 years.

Reactions to the launch of the strategy were mixed. OVO CEO Adrian Letts called it a "hugely important step forward", while EDF Energy UK chief executive of Simone Rossi predicted that a move towards electric heat pumps "will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of our homes and could also protect consumers from future spikes in wholesale gas prices". Here's hoping.

Heating and Hotwater Industry Council director Stewart Clements said the strategy "allows the HHIC membership to make the investment choices required to facilitate the manufacturing, installation, and training for low carbon heating products".

Those examining the strategy, with a perhaps more critcial eye, included GMB National Secretary Andy Prendergast who called heat pumps "unsuitable for many homes", and called on the government "to invest in far more in realistic clean alternatives like hydrogen".

Spokesperson for the Green Stamp Duty Incentive, Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group David Adams argued that "without also instigating a long-term driver of demand" the progress made through the boiler upgrade scheme "will collapse again when the three years are up".

As always, it's a case of watch and wait, but government's multi-million pound investment in low carbon heat sources is not something to be sniffed at.

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