Regional gas distribution company Cadent has warned that the government’s plans to electrify heating and decarbonise the power grid through a mass heat pump rollout were “not deliverable”.
While there has been much fanfare about the potential of heat pumps, Angela Needle, director of strategy at Cadent, told City A.M. the company estimates that up to half the UK’s homes will need hydrogen boilers instead.
“If you think about every home is going to need an electric heating system… the electricity network outside their house is going to have to be upgraded, and there are some homes we know are very difficult to electrify,” she said.
“If there is an opportunity to support a third solution of hydrogen that is viable and is easy for consumers to access, I think that’s really important.”
The government is targeting annual heat pump rollouts of 600,000 per year within five years, and has offered £6,000 grants to households via its £450m Boiler Upgrade Scheme.
This has enabled firms to offer heat pumps at competitive rates compared to oil and gas boilers at £2,500-£3,000 per installation.
It is part of the government’s carrot and stick approach, with the energy security and net zero department consulting on a potential phase out of new oil-powered boilers by 2026 and new installations of gas boilers by 2035.
Just 33,000 heat pumps were installed last year, and while there has been a slight upturn in installations this year – 17,920 in the first six months – this remains well below the government’s targets.
Jess Ralston, head of energy at ECIU, told City A.M., however, that there was no reason why the UK can’t accelerate its heat pump rollout.
“The British public will continue to be on the hook for expensive gas until we start to use less of it and that means insulating our leaky houses and moving away from gas heating,” she said. “At the moment the majority of hydrogen is made using gas, so that won’t help to reduce bills
She noted that there are now over 20m households with heat pumps installed across Europe, while more heat pumps were sold in the US than gas boilers last year.
“The rest of the world is rapidly switching to heat pumps, so there’s no reason why the UK can’t too. Clear signals and policy to hit the government’s targets would help,” she said.
Adam Bell, former head of energy at BEIS and now director of policy at Stonehaven, told City A.M., that he believed wide-scale implementation of heat pumps was possible but warned it would be “politically challenging”.