Ditch the EU’s Renewable Heat target to decarbonise heat, says think tank

The UK government should complete re-think its approach to decarbonising heating, including scrapping the EU’s renewable heat target, according to a new report by think tank Policy Exchange.

The previous government planned to decarbonise heating by fitting electric heat pumps in most homes by 2050. Policy Exchange said this was a “colossal waste of money” and would cost about £300 billion, or as much as £12,000 per household. This takes includes £8,500 to install each heat pump, the cost of upgrading the grid, and the additional 100 Gigawatts of power generation capacity that would be required to meet the demand for electricity.

Instead, the think tank’s report, Too hot to handle, said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) should:

  • Improve energy efficiency by tightening standards for new build homes and private rented properties. Link the stamp duty system to energy performance to encourage households to improve their properties.
  • Encourage people to replace old boilers with new highly efficient boilers to make better use of gas.
  • Expanding the use of “greener gases” by injecting biomethane into the gas grid and supporting the development of new technologies which convert “black bag” residual waste into synthetic biogas.
  • Explore the possibility of converting the gas to the grid to run on hydrogen.
  • Ditch the EU’s Renewable Heat target, under which the UK has pursued more expensive technologies, and instead focus on the cheapest ways of decarbonising heating.

The report’s author, Richard Howard, said: “Heating our homes and other buildings accounts for nearly half of all energy consumed in the UK, and one third of total greenhouse gas emissions. However despite its significance, heat remains the “Cinderella” of energy and climate policy, having been largely overlooked in favour of the other main energy sectors: power and transport.”

He added: “The previous government put all its eggs in one basket with a strategy focusing on electric heat pumps. This is a mistake given the huge costs involved – which inevitably would be picked up by UK consumers. Our alternative approach, which still achieves an 80% reduction in emissions, involves making significant improvements in home insulation and boiler efficiency, and switching to greener forms of gas such as biomethane, which can be produced from waste food and other organic materials and injected into the gas grid.”

Mike Foster, chief executive of trade association the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) urged the government to make any new policy affordable. He said: “The vast majority of UK households are connected to the gas grid, rather than rip out heating systems and make the grid obsolete, it makes sense to decarbonise the gas we use. This report by Policy Exchange suggests this is the most cost effective option for the UK to follow. The government now needs to do all it can to facilitate this.”

He added the his members are “poised to deliver” green gas technology, “we now need that green light from the government.

Related content:


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Subscriber only content: The New Power Interview: Keith Maclean, Chairman, UK Energy Research Centre – Keith MacLean tells Janet Wood the biggest challenges in decarbonisation, including heat, have to be addressed and industry governance must change. 

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