In an open letter to Rishi Sunak, academics from some of the country’s leading universities and engineering schools, including Cambridge, Imperial College London and University College London said there was no ‘one-size-fits-all solution’ to decarbonising home heating and forcing a single option on consumers could risk alienating them.
Home heating accounts for 14% of all UK emissions. Household emissions from heating and hot water must be reduced by 95% to reach 2050 net zero targets.
No ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution
“Public support for Net Zero is high, but there are numerous independent studies that show that, when it comes to reducing the impact of home heating, the picture is significantly more complex,” said Professor Nilay Shah, Professor of Process Systems Engineering at Imperial College London, one of the letter’s signatories.
“Consumers are apprehensive about what this might mean for their current lifestyles and their personal autonomy – whether that is how they choose to heat their home, or how they choose to spend their money. This is entirely understandable, given that this will be happening in their own homes.
“What we need to keep in mind is that, if homeowners do not like the technology on offer to them, they simply will not accept it. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – hydrogen boilers, heat pumps and district heating will all have a role to play, along with energy conservation measures.”
The academics said a balanced approach was needed to reflect the realities of the UK’s varied housing stock, regional variations in availability of low carbon energy and to provide consumer choice.
Installer shortage ‘critical barrier to electrification’
“We also need to consider whether the UK could realistically transition away from gas heating on the timescales needed to meet Net Zero,” said Professor Shah.
“In the UK, we have a mature gas industry supporting a huge number of gas safe engineers. These engineers could easily transition to fitting hydrogen boilers but installing a heat pump requires a very different skills profile, leading the Climate Change Committee to highlight the national shortage in qualified heat pump installers as a critical barrier to a national programme of electrifying heat.
“While some of the gas workforce will be retrained to fit heat pumps, the reality is that the numbers currently being trained nowhere near meet the scale required. In this gap, gas engineers – who, in 2021, safely installed 1.7 million gas boilers – should be able to begin the roll out of hydrogen-ready boilers.”
The letter calls on the Government to develop policies that support a mix of options including hydrogen boilers, heat pumps and heat networks.