‘National debate’ needed as some consumers will lose gas option

Policymakers have to start a national conversation about how to decarbonise heat, says Jeff Douglas, strategy manager at the Energy Systems Catapult, as it will eventually restrict choices for consumers. The comments came in an interview with New Power about the future of heat.

For consumers, decarbonising heat is likely to be more disruptive than decarbonising power. Douglas points out: “Decarbonisation means removing natural gas from up to 26 million UK homes, at least in the way it is used today.”

Early assumptions that fossil heat in the form of gas would mainly be replaced by low-carbon electricity have changed. Now a patchwork is thought more likely, with district heat networks, biogas or hydrogen using remnants of the gas grid in some areas, and electricity providing heat in others.

Consumers are unlikely to be able to have unrestricted choice between different heat types. Douglas says that a certain loss of choice is unavoidable. “If we are going to go for a heat network solution then personal choice is not necessarily best. You need most people on board to make it work.” In many areas they will not have gas available for other purposes such as cooking.

Douglas is concerned that with no end-point in sight “the patchwork may not be developing a helpful way”. He says at the moment, “You may be incentivising people to do things that don’t stack up in the long term.”  Either way, it is difficult to change course. “It’s not necessarily a linear process, but I think you have to have an end point in your mind.”

He says that needs public debate: “It’s a decision of the nation.”

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