‘Right now, the path to net zero is unaffordable for most. It is highly likely that, a decade hence, we may need a bonfire of the long-term targets.’
How much are you prepared to pay to turn the world green? Climate change will head the agenda at the G7 Summit in Cornwall this weekend, as Joe Biden meets world leaders face-to-face for the first time as US President. The climate evangelist will no doubt secure headline-grabbing environmental aims and objectives, but there is one major problem with these fine aspirations. Right now, the path to net zero is unaffordable for most.
Clearly, there is only one direction of travel in the climate-change debate. Emissions will be cut, and tough targets will be set. But the spiralling cost of creating net-zero emission economies by 2050 is likely to be a drag on these targets, especially when it comes to personal consumer decisions.
Emissions associated with heating domestic and non-domestic buildings (excluding industry) were responsible for 23pc of the UK’s emissions in 2016, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Natural gas has been the predominant fuel used to heat the UK building stock, but if the Government’s target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is to be achieved, this needs to change. Fast.
Heat pumps offer great hope for domestic buildings, but the major challenge is persuading homeowners to install one in the first place. Of course, there are alternatives and heat pumps will only be part of the mix, but the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) modelled heat pump deployment under a pathway where the UK reaches net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It concluded that 19m heat pumps would need to be deployed in existing homes, excluding new build, by 2050.
The CCC has calculated that Britain will need to ramp up to an annual installation rate of 1,149,000 heat pumps by 2030 to meet its emissions commitments and the Government committed in its 10-point Green Industrial Plan to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.
Approximately 240,000 heat pumps are operational in the UK right now, minuscule when compared with 26m fossil-fuel boilers already installed. They represent less than 1pc of all heating systems across the country. That’s because they are expensive.
Air source heat pumps are priced between £7,000 and £14,000 while ground source heat pumps, which get heat from holes drilled into the ground, cost from £15,000 to £35,000. Costs are high because of the limited number of trained installers.
Here lies the main problem that needs to be solved. Consumers are reticent to buy heat pumps because they are more expensive than their traditional boilers, but prices won’t come down to make them affordable until volumes are sufficient for mass production to bring down prices. Governments will have to force people into spending money or taxpayers will have to foot the bill. […]
Boris Johnson’s Government is expected to reveal shortly plans to force homeowners to replace their conventional gas boilers with greener alternatives when they sell their property – or carry out significant renovations – to ensure their heating systems comply with tougher new environmental standards. A consultation on the best way to implement this is also expected to be launched soon but it looks like most of the cost will be forced on to homeowners.
So, when world leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder this weekend trumpeting their bold environmental targets, these will be paid for by us all. It is highly likely that, a decade hence, we may need a bonfire of the long-term targets. Otherwise, it may mean a significant rise in costs extracted from Joe Public as politicians attempt to meet targets that might not be achievable anyway.