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Do the government’s boiler replacement grants solve the right problem?

Yesterday, the government announced a £450 million boiler upgrade scheme, offering £5,000 grants for households replacing gas-boilers with low-carbon heating systems. The scheme does not specify what low-carbon system should be used although it repeatedly refers to air-source heat pumps.

Boiler engineer arriving at house

It’s part of an ongoing initiative to decarbonise British housing by moving from gas to electricity but is this the best way to do it?

We have reservations:

  • Our position has always been that upgrades should be based on an evaluation of what will deliver the best outcome for a given site. By making the grants available specifically for boiler replacement, the scheme effectively makes heat pumps the solution without considering the problem on a case-by-case basis.
  • Heat pumps have a lower flow temperature than gas boilers so replacement requires larger radiators, and £5,000 is unlikely to cover a full upgrade of a central heating system.
  • A unit of electrical energy costs five times as much as the equivalent in gas and the most optimistic predictions of heat pump performance would not close that gap. Unless coupled with fabric improvements like insulation upgrades, the replacement will probably lead to substantially higher energy bills.
  • By committing both public funds and homeowners’ finances to heat pumps, does the initiative rule out considering other options that may be more efficient in terms of running costs and embodied carbon for at least the lifespan of the heat pump?

We hope that when the renovation grants are written into policy, they will not commit the recipient to heat pumps but will support them in applying whatever approach will deliver the best cost and carbon efficiency.

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