Climate change: Government criticised for funding new gas boilers while planning to phase them out

·3-min read

Government plans to fund gas boilers in poorer households have been criticised as "wasteful and baffling" given its upcoming strategy to phase them out.

Documents from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show how the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) - which uses money raised from surcharges on energy bills to pay for efficiency measures - could also see 20,000 homes get new central heating systems with gas boilers.

The government will soon publish its delayed Heat and Buildings Strategy, which is expected to set out plans to wean the country off the carbon-polluting technology, and offer grants to install clean alternatives such as heat pumps.

Energy use in homes accounts for about 14% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. It needs to fall by about a quarter at least by 2030 to meet the country's climate change targets, but progress has been slow.

Experts warn that gas boilers expose families to air pollution and - with energy bills expected to rise to levels not seen in a decade - that gas boilers could end up more expensive than heat pumps, which are currently costly to install.

Jess Ralston, analyst with the Energy, Climate and Intelligence Unit, said: "While it's important that vulnerable households are supported in staying warm at home, installing new fossil fuel boilers - which contribute to harmful air pollution in homes that are already more likely to have poor air quality - just means that fuel poor families are locked into dirtier, more expensive and more unhealthy heating systems for longer.

"It's wasteful and baffling when it's clear that a clean heating revolution is just around the corner and gas prices are rocketing."

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The UK is lagging behind most European countries in selling and installing low carbon heat pumps, according to Greenpeace analysis.

In 2020, the UK's heat pump sales figures per household were three times lower than in Poland, 10 times lower than in France, and 32 times lower than sales in Norway, its research suggests.

Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, said: "Reducing carbon emissions from our homes is absolutely critical to meet the climate targets.

"But paying people to install new heating systems running on fossil fuels is incompatible with the UK's climate goals.

"Rather than subsidising gas boilers, we urgently need a policy to support the transition to clean heating."

A Business Department (Beis) spokesperson said: "While we remain committed to transitioning away from gas boilers over the next 15 years, we make no apology for supporting low-income households in the short term to replace a limited number of the most inefficient gas boilers, thereby cutting energy bills and carbon emissions.

"The majority of the 3.3 million measures installed under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) so far are insulation measures, and we expect that to continue in the future."

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