The transition to net zero will inevitably require changes to be made to the way we live our everyday lives.
Those changes are already happening. The electric car market, for example, is booming, with battery-powered vehicles accounting for almost 28 percent of new car sales in April.
The switch to electric vehicles has undoubtedly been hastened by the Government’s ban on the sale of fossil fuel cars from 2030. Similarly, Government policy has decreed that natural gas boilers may not be installed in homes from 2035. Electric heat pumps are envisaged to replace them.
Most homes are connected to the gas grid, but in rural areas, such as much of North Wales, many properties are off-grid and heated by boilers fuelled by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
2035 seems a long way off, giving householders time to raise the necessary funds to purchase the expensive heat pumps.
However, the Government intends to pursue a ‘rural first’ approach to the rollout of heat pumps, committing to ban the installation of fossil fuel boilers in rural homes from 2026.
Given the extra cost and disruption of installing heat pumps compared to existing boilers, rural homeowners will quite reasonably wonder if this is fair.
Many rural homes tend to be old and draughty, with 47 percent built prior to 1949. According to ONS figures, only 3 per cent of off-gas homes achieve an Energy Performance Certificate rating of Band C.
And many rural homes will need significant energy efficiency investment if they are to be made suitable for electrified heating; they may require new hot water tanks and additional radiators. Some will need to be rewired or have external wall insulation.
According to the Heat and Building Strategy, the current cost of a heat pump for the average off-grid home is £12,000, with a further £2,000 potentially required to retrofit insulation to enable the home to be ‘heat pump ready’. This will be a significant financial cost for rural homeowners.
So, how can the Government make the transition fairer for off-grid consumers?
First, it should reconsider the 2026 deadline. It should adopt a ‘heat pump ready first’, not ‘rural first’ approach: all post-1970 homes should be targeted first, not simply the more challenging off-grid properties. This will help meet the Government’s ambition of 600,000 annual heat pump installations by 2028 and reduce the financial impact on rural households.
Second, it should provide a choice, not a mandate, on the heating system to be used.
Heat pumps should be installed because householders want them, rather than because they are forced do so.
The Government should also give greater support to other technologies, such as hybrid heat pumps, and incentivise the development of alternative renewable fuels, including bioliquids and biogases such as BioLPG.
BioLPG is already on the market, but its uptake is hindered by lack of recognition in building standards.
If net zero is to be pursued, it must be pursued fairly; and the present policy is less than fair on rural homeowners.