Government is blasted over plan to install 20,000 new GAS boilers

Government is blasted over ‘baffling’ plan to install 20,000 new GAS boilers in poorer homes despite phasing them out to hit 2050 carbon target… but expert claims ministers should focus on UK’s power network where ‘two-thirds of energy is WASTED’

  • ‘Energy company obligation’ uses money raised from energy bill surcharges to pay for efficiency measures 
  • Move could see poorer households get new central heating systems with gas boilers from 2022 to 2026
  • But this would be only nine years before new gas boilers are set to be banned by Ministers from 2035
  • It comes as the Government is set to reveal how Britain will shift away from carbon-polluting technology

The Government was today accused of a ‘wasteful and baffling’ move to pay 20,000 poorer households to install new gas boilers only a decade before they are expected to be phased out.

The ‘energy company obligation’, which uses money raised from surcharges on energy bills to pay for efficiency measures such as insulation in fuel poor homes, could see them get new central heating systems with gas boilers.

Documents from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy revealed details of the scheme over the period of 2022 to 2026, which is only nine years before new gas boilers are set to be banned from 2035.

Experts estimated that it would cost a total of up to £45million for 20,000 new gas boilers and central heating systems to be installed in homes, as well as a further 25,000 existing gas boilers to be repaired or replaced. 

It comes as the Government is set to reveal how it will shift away from carbon-polluting technology, amid claims households could receive grants worth thousands of pounds to install clean alternatives such as heat pumps.

But one sustainability expert told MailOnline that the biggest problem that needs to be fixed is ‘the shocking losses in the generation and transmission of energy in the UK, where two-thirds of energy is currently wasted’. 

Homes account for around 14 per cent of the UK’s climate pollution, with the vast majority getting their heating and hot water from fossil fuel gas boilers which produce carbon dioxide.

The Government has been accused of ‘wasteful and baffling’ moves to pay poorer households to install new gas boilers

This graphic from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy shows the breakdown of fuel poor properties

One sustainability expert told MailOnline that the biggest problem that needs to be fixed is ‘the shocking losses in the generation and transmission of energy in the UK, where two-thirds of energy is currently wasted’


Ground source heat pumps (left) use pipes buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground, which can then heat radiators. Air source heat pumps (right), which absorb heat from the outside air, can still extract heat when it is as cold as -15C

Ground source heat pumps circulate a mixture of water and antifreeze around a ground loop pipe. Heat from the ground is absorbed into the fluid and then passes through a heat exchanger, and running costs will depend on the size of the home

Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the outside air at low temperature into a fluid to heat your house and hot water. They extract renewable heat from the environment, meaning the heat output is greater than the electricity input

Cutting the pollution from households is a key part of the UK’s efforts to meet its legal climate goals to reduce greenhouse gases to zero overall by 2050.

Experts also warn that gas boilers expose families to air pollution, and with gas prices on the rise, could be a more expensive option than running a heat pump, although the clean technology is currently far more costly to install.

How much will gas boiler alternatives cost you?  

GROUND SOURCE HEAT PUMPS (£14,000 – £19,000)

Ground source heat pumps use pipes buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground, which can then heat radiators, warm air heating systems and hot water.

They circulate a mixture of water and antifreeze around a ground loop pipe. Heat from the ground is absorbed into the fluid and then passes through a heat exchanger.

Installation costs between £14,000 to £19,000 depending on the length of the loop, and running costs will depend on the size of the home and its insulation.

Users may be able to receive payments for the heat they generate through the Government’s renewable heat incentive. The systems normally come with a two or three year warranty – and work for at least 20 years, with a professional check every three to five years.

AIR SOURCE HEAT PUMPS (£11,000)

Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the outside air at low temperature into a fluid to heat your house and hot water. They can still extract heat when it is as cold as -15C (5F), with the fluid passing through a compressor which warms it up and transfers it into a heating circuit.

They extract renewable heat from the environment, meaning the heat output is greater than the electricity input – and they are therefore seen as energy efficient.

There are two types, which are air-to-water and air-to-air, and installing a system costs £9,000 to £11,000, depending on the size of your home and its insulation.

A typical three-bedroom home is said to be able to save £2,755 in ten years by using this instead of a gas boiler.

HYDROGEN BOILERS (£1,500 – £5,000)

Hydrogen boilers are still only at the prototype phase, but they are being developed so they can run on hydrogen gas or natural gas – so can therefore convert without a new heating system being required.

The main benefit of hydrogen is that produces no carbon dioxide at the point of use, and can be manufactured from either water using electricity as a renewable energy source, or from natural gas accompanied by carbon capture and storage.

A hydrogen-ready boiler is intended to be a like-for-like swap for an existing gas boiler, but the cost is unknown, with estimates ranging from £1,500 to £5,000.

The boiler is constructed and works in mostly the same way as an existing condensing boiler, with Worcester Bosch – which is producing a prototype – saying converting a hydrogen-ready boiler from natural gas to hydrogen will take a trained engineer around an hour.

SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC PANELS (£4,800)

Solar photovoltaic panels generate renewable electricity by converting energy from the sun into electricity, with experts saying they will cut electricity bills.

Options include panels fitted on a sloping south-facing roof or flat roof, ground-standing panels or solar tiles – with each suitable for different settings. They are made from layers of semi-conducting material, normally silicon, and electrons are knocked loose when light shines on the material which creates an electricity flow.

The cells can work on a cloudy day but generate more electricity when the sunshine is stronger. The electricity generated is direct current (DC), while household appliances normally use alternating current (AC) – and an inverter is therefore installed with the system.

The average domestic solar PV system is 3.5 kilowatts peak (kWp) – the rate at which energy is generated at peak performance, such as on a sunny afternoon. A 1kWp set of panels will produce an average of 900kWh per year in optimal conditions, and the cost is £4,800.

SOLAR WATER HEATING (£5,000)

Solar water heating systems, or solar thermal systems, use heat from the sun to warm domestic hot water.

A conventional boiler or immersion heater can then be used to make the water hotter, or to provide hot water when solar energy is unavailable.

The system works by circulating a liquid through a panel on a roof, or on a wall or ground-mounted system.

The panels absorb heat from the sun, which is used to warm water kept in a cylinder, and those with the system will require a fair amount of roof space receiving direct sunlight for much of the day to make it effectively.

The cost of installing a typical system is between £4,000 and £5,000, but the savings are lower than other options because it is not as effective in the winter months.

BIOMASS BOILERS (£5,000 – £19,000)

The renewable energy source of biomass is generated from burning wood, plants and other organic matter such as manure or household waste. It releases carbon dioxide when burned, but much less than fossil fuels.

Biomass heating systems can burn wood pellets, chips or logs to heat a single room or power central heating and hot water boilers.

A stove can also be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating, and experts say a wood-fuelled biomass boiler could save up to £700 a year compared to a standard electric heating system.

An automatically-fed pellet boiler for an average home costs between £11,000 and £19,000, including installation, flue and fuel store. Manually fed log boiler systems can be slightly cheaper, while a smaller domestic biomass boiler starts at £5,000.

Jess Ralston, an analyst with the London-based 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.’

Another Government energy efficiency scheme for social housing is not supporting fossil fuel boilers, and she called for the Government to make that approach the norm.

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.’

Mr Rosenow told MailOnline today that he would estimate a total cost of ‘up to £45million’ for the installation of 20,000 new gas boilers and new gas systems for central heating systems; along with the cost of 25,000 existing boilers being repaired or replaced. 

He also said other countries have stopped funding fossil fuel heating systems through public programmes, and urged the UK to lead by example ahead of crucial international Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow.

And Jonathan Maxwell, founder of Sustainable Development Capital LLP, said: ‘Reducing household emissions is critically important, but the carbon savings are a mere fraction of what can be saved by addressing the shocking losses in the generation and transmission of energy in the UK, where two-thirds of energy is currently wasted.

‘These savings can be delivered without the need to pass the costs on to consumers. Energy efficiency technologies are proven and commercially sustainable because they help the bottom line as well as the environment.’

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 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 3.3million measures installed under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) so far are insulation measures, and we expect that to continue in the future.’

The Department has also been contacted for comment about Mr Maxwell’s claims about energy losses.

It comes after data revealed the UK is lagging behind most European countries in selling and installing low carbon heat pumps to clean up the emissions from heating homes.

Britain came joint last out of 21 European countries for heat pump sales last year, with just 1.3 sold for every 1,000 households, figures provided to Greenpeace UK by the European Heat Pump Association reveal.

At the other end of the scale, Norway saw 42 heat pumps sold per 1,000 households in 2020, followed by 39 for Finland, and 29 for Estonia.

And the UK comes second last, above only Hungary, for the proportion of homes which have had heat pumps installed to date, providing a cleaner alternative to gas or oil-fired boilers for heating and hot water.

Just 10 in 1,000 or 1 per cent of UK households have heat pumps installed, up to the end of 2020, compared with 60 per cent of Norwegian homes and 43 per cent of Swedish households, the figures suggest. 

Heat pumps are much more efficient in generating energy than gas boilers, but currently have much higher upfront installation costs, of around £10,000 for an air source pump and more for a ground source kit, though some suppliers have said costs could fall rapidly.

The Government is expected to announce plans to cut carbon emissions from heating homes, offices and other properties shortly to help meet the UK’s legally-binding goal to cut greenhouse gases to zero overall by 2050.

It has already said it wants to see 600,000 heat pumps installed each year by 2028, but current levels of installation are well below that.

Greenpeace said the slow roll-out of clean sources of home heating is a missed opportunity to create new long-term, green jobs and boost economic growth, and risks undermining the UK’s efforts to cut carbon from homes and meet its climate commitments.

The environmental group is urging the Government to offer grants that make the upfront costs of installation and complementary energy efficiency measures the same as as replacing a gas boiler, with the entire cost covered for low income families.

This would require new public investment of £4.76 billion in the forthcoming spending review, with a further £7 billion for energy efficiency measures to sufficiently cut emissions from housing, Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said: ‘The UK already has the draughtiest homes in western Europe, now we’re last when it comes to clean heating too.

‘If the Government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale.

‘This means substantial grants for heat pump installations, especially for the poorest families, removing VAT on green home technologies and a phase out of gas boilers early next decade,’ he said.

A Business Department spokesman said the Government was committed to ‘greatly accelerating the UK’s deployment of heat pumps from around 35,000 this year, to 600,000 a year by 2028’.

They said: ‘We are confident that the upfront costs will fall in the coming years, and we will look to help the market drive down these costs.


Hydrogen boilers have not yet hit the market, with Worcester Bosch currently building a protoype (as shown, right)

This graphic from the Government’s Hy4Heat innovation programme shows how hydrogen homes would be powered


Solar photovoltaic panels (left) generate renewable electricity by converting energy from the sun into electricity. Solar water heating systems (right), or solar thermal systems, use heat from the sun to warm domestic hot water 

Biomass heating systems can burn wood pellets, chips or logs to heat a single room or power central heating and boilers

If hydrogen is part of a zero-carbon future, it could have to be produced by electrolysis (as shown above), which sees electric currents passed through water. Another option is for the plants to capture the carbon emissions and pump them underground

‘We will set out how this will be achieved in the forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy, with fairness and affordability for both households and taxpayers at the heart of our plans.’

Yesterday, the officer in charge of armed policing for Police Scotland said there was ‘no specific threat’ to Cop26 in Glasgow in November over terrorist attacks.

The force is understood to have about 500 armed officers and while there has been no increase in their numbers for Cop26, a ‘significant’ number of armed police from elsewhere in the UK will assist. 

The Queen, Pope Francis and US President Joe Biden are among the high-profile figures expected to attend, and each member of the United Nations has been invited, meaning nearly 120 heads of state are expected to arrive along with about 20,000 accredited delegates.

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