Rishi Sunak’s rowback of green pledges is a “reality check” for net zero, which exposes that the country is now entering the “hard yards” of delivering its climate pledges, a senior figure at the UK’s largest gas distribution company has said.
Dr Tony Ballance, chief strategy and regulation officer at Cadent, told City A.M. that decisions around energy policy would become increasingly challenging for the government.
In his view, the Prime Minister’s decision to soften targets for replacing fossil fuel boilers reflected the government’s anxiety over sustaining popular support for the country’s climate goals.
He said: “We’re going to have a big challenge taking consumers along with us on that journey, because we’re going to have to persuade them to change the way in which they heat their homes, and potentially use appliances in the home.”
The UK’s housing stock is among the least efficient in Europe and is highly dependent on fossil fuel powered heating, with 85 per cent of customers relying on gas boilers to warm their homes.
Cadent has backed hydrogen boilers for repurposing its gas networks, which serve 11m customers with fossil fuel supplies. However, Downing Street is increasingly in favour of heat pumps as a solution for homeowners.
In an approach to balance net zero with affordability, Sunak last night raised the subsidies for new installations to £7,500 while also shifting the government’s target from 100 per cent replacement of oil and gas boilers to 80 per cent by 2035, under the recognition that the technology is challenging to install in every home.
This follows the government scrapping plans for a hydrogen levy to fund hydrogen generation across the UK, which was seen in Whitehall as a vital method for funding hydrogen boilers.
With the government still maintaining plans to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2035 and reach net zero over the next three decades, Balance believed energy policies were now shifting into the territory where they would impact consumers.
Ballance revealed that company research showed that most consumers want to help deliver net zero, but that they were still not always aware for their gas boiler is something that may need to change.
“What they’re also saying is they expect their utility providers to make that change easily for them, rather than they have to make substantial changes to their house,” he explained.
Polling from You Gov suggests Brits are divided over Sunak’s decision to ease some of the UK’s net zero plans, with 38 per cent of voters believing the government should keep all its current climate change plans in place, while 44 per cent agreed with Sunak’s delays.