Living in a warm and healthy home is something that many of us take for granted. In the same way that we can pour ourselves a glass of clean water with a quick twist of a tap, we can keep ourselves nice and toasty by dialling up the thermostat. And if it wasn’t for the heating bill, the heating would probably be on most of the time. That’s not just an assumption. Research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy tells us that the main reason people pay attention to their heat usage is to minimise spend. The environmental impact of heating is barely considered, and one in five people don’t pay very much attention to the amount of heat they use at all.
This tells us what we already know. People want to be able to comfortably – and affordably – heat their homes, but the association between heating and climate change hasn’t quite been made yet. And why would it? Most UK homes are located on the gas grid and we are yet to see any set dates for the phase out of fossil fuels.
But would a widespread concern for the environment lead to the adoption of low carbon heating systems? The reality is that this change can’t come from consumers alone. Installers are the most common source of information used by households when it comes to choosing a new boiler or heating system and yet just a fraction of the UK’s installer base has the knowledge they need to recommend and install low carbon heating.
Even with all the training opportunities in the world, installers will continue to installer gas boilers until they are told not to. And that’s exactly why the fossil fuel phase out dates are so important. Without these timescales and commitments, where is the motivation for installers to upskill in technologies like heat pumps? Ambitions from the Government to roll out 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028 will not go far enough to instigate the drive; clear timeframes and support from the government are urgently needed to support the rapid rollout of low carbon heat. Anything less will leave installers questioning whether there is a need to upskill at all. Meanwhile, more and more gas boilers will make their way into homes.
What we must remember is that most people would only consider replacing their heating system when their current one breaks down or starts to deteriorate – which essentially means that households faced with no heating or hot water are often in distress when they’re choosing a new system. Suffice to say, this often leads to a like-for-like replacement, which doesn’t bode well for climate change when we consider that gas boilers are installed in the majority of homes.
It is essential that installers have the knowledge and skills they need to offer consumers the right advice at the right time so that they can make fully informed decisions around the heating system for their home. But it is also critical that the Government puts plans in place to encourage consumers to switch out their heating systems for reasons other than a break down.
With the UK falling far behind other countries in Europe when it comes to rolling out heat pumps, it is fair to say that time is the last thing on our side. And yet somehow, it’s still being wasted due to action from the Government lagging behind. It was almost twelve months ago that we were eagerly awaiting the publication of the Heat and Buildings Strategy in the hope that it would set out the steps needed to decarbonise our buildings at the scale required. And yet here we are one year later still waiting for it to arrive. Rumours are now circulating that the Strategy will be with us within the coming weeks, leaving the industry with hope that it will finally unveil proposals that pave the way for heat pumps. It is vital that we say this support through a range of long-term regulation, market mechanisms and financial incentives.
Following news this week that gas boilers produce twice as much CO2 as the UK’s gas fired power stations combined, the importance of the Heat and Buildings Strategy is as clear as day. Government action must reflect the urgency of the UK’s heat decarbonisation challenge and make up for lost time.
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