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Heat and Buildings Strategy: Gas Boilers

Volume 828: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of progress on their Heat and Buildings Strategy, published on 19 October 2021; and whether they have any plans to change the date of 2025 for banning the installation of gas boilers in new-build homes.

My Lords, the Government have made good progress towards their target. Between October 2021 and November 2022, 240,300 measures were installed through Help to Heat schemes. The building regulations will continue to set a performance-based standard rather than banning specific technologies. However, to ensure that new homes are carbon-zero ready, we plan to ensure that the future homes standard is set at a level that will effectively preclude new homes being built with fossil fuel heating.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and draw attention to my membership of your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee. I note that in 2020 the Government brought forward, in a very welcome way, the date for phasing out new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 to 2030, which has had a significant positive effect on that market. Has further consideration been given to bringing forward to 2030 the present date of 2035 for prohibiting the installation of new gas boilers to further encourage the rapid development of low-carbon domestic heating?

I can correct the right reverend Prelate. We have not set a date of 2035 for prohibiting the installation of new gas boilers; we have said that this is our aim but, crucially, it will depend on the availability of cheap alternatives for people to heat their homes with.

My Lords, the overwhelming evidence is that hydrogen will never work in domestic heating. Will the Government stop their trials of hydrogen villages and concentrate their efforts where hydrogen really can make a difference?

The noble Lord is right to an extent. At the moment, hydrogen heating for homes is an unproven technology, which is why we need to carry out trials and research to ascertain whether it is a viable technology. In the meantime, we know that heat pumps and electrification work and are operable technologies, which is why we support them.

My Lords, I remind my noble friend the Minister that there are millions and millions of terraced houses throughout the United Kingdom. It is absolutely impossible for them to have heat pumps. Against that situation, would it not be much more sensible to ask the gas industry to produce, in the interim, new boilers that are less difficult in relation to zero carbon? In addition, the point that was just made about hydrogen seems equally relevant to me.

I am afraid that I do not agree with my noble friend. It is perfectly possible for heat pumps to be used in terraced properties. The thing about the UK is that there is a multiplicity of different property types and flavours; not all solutions will be appropriate for all properties, so we need to look at a number of options. We also need to continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of gas boilers. In whatever scenario, there will still be millions of gas boilers fitted in existing properties in the next few years; there is more that we can do to improve existing efficiencies.

My Lords, one of the main reasons given for the relatively low take-up of heat pumps is that there are not enough skilled engineers to install them. What work is being done to retrain existing gas boiler installers so that they can install this new technology, speed up installation and help us meet our carbon targets?

The noble Baroness makes an important point. We are rapidly increasing the number of available skilled installers. I have opened a number of schemes in both the public sector and the private sector. In September we launched the home decarbonisation skills training competition, a £9.2 million fund for training people who work in the energy efficiency, retrofitting and low-carbon heating sectors. Of course, the industry itself is also investing in training capacity; for example, Octopus Energy is investing £10 million in a new training centre and Ideal Heating has announced a new £1 million training centre near Hull. So there is a combination of public and private sector investment in this area.

My Lords, as a further incentive for people to change their energy sources, will the Government give consideration to an energy-saving stamp duty under which energy-efficient homes pay an adjusted lower rate, with a rebate paid to new home owners who improve the energy efficiency of their home within two years of purchase? Will they also consider reintroducing the landlord’s energy saving allowance, which used to encourage landlords to undertake energy-efficiency measures but was abolished in 2015?

The noble Baroness will be aware that these are matters for the Chancellor. As a Minister, I have long observed not getting into predicting taxation policy. I will certainly pass her suggestions on to the Chancellor.

My Lords, further to the questions from the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Naseby, I was involved in raising funds to refurbish our rectory. The church insisted on putting in a heat pump; because of the nature of the property, it cost nearly £40,000 just to insulate it in order to make the heat pump work efficiently. Heat pumps are not suitable for all buildings, which is why it is essential that we look for an alternative.

I partly agree with my noble friend. It is a good thing that the rectory was insulated anyway, whatever kind of heating was installed in it. Heat pumps obviously work best in well-insulated properties, but you can now get high-temperature heat pumps that work in all scenarios. I agree with my noble friend that, as I said earlier, there is a multiplicity of property types and different technologies will work in different properties.

My Lords, from the evidence that it received, the Environment and Climate Change Committee, of which I was a member at the time, concluded in its inquiry on the boiler upgrade scheme that a shortage of relevant skills is a major barrier to the take-up of the boiler upgrade scheme and low-carbon heat. The microgeneration certification scheme, which certifies whether companies are capable of fitting renewable heat products, gave evidence to the committee that the three-year duration of the scheme and

“the delayed release of the market-based mechanism to support heat pump growth”

did not

“provide sufficient long-term certainty to grow the sector and encourage retraining.”

Despite this investment in training, does the Minister agree with the MCS that a long-term policy of decadal length is required to create a stable policy landscape to encourage investment in training? If he does, what do the Government intend to do about that?

The noble Lord will be aware that the next Question is on the boiler upgrade scheme; his question might perhaps have been more appropriate there, but I agree with him. The Answer I gave earlier shows what we are doing to invest in upgrading existing skills. It is a long-term job over decades, as the MCS correctly said. I was at a reception with the MCS last week, talking to it about this very issue.

I agree with the Minister in his statement that there is a multiplicity of solutions for decarbonising heat. One very promising technology is the use of heat loops, or networked ground source heat pumps. These are much more efficient than even air source heat pumps and are an excellent technology that we should be trialling, perhaps instead of hydrogen.

I am aware of the noble Baroness’s scepticism about hydrogen—we have discussed it a number of times. I agree with her about ground source heat pumps. There are some great, innovative UK companies developing them and we support them under the boiler upgrade scheme.

My Lords, the Committee stage of the Energy Bill started in September 2022, and we still have not reached Report. Is this delay down to the Government adopting the Labour Party’s suggestions in Committee, which would make targets of the future homes standard and ban the installation of gas boilers in new homes? I guess from the Minister’s response so far that this is not the case. Can he say what is causing the delay?

I am sorry to tell the noble Lord that it is nothing to do with the Labour Party’s policies. My responsibilities do not extend to predicting the business of this House. I am sure that the Chief Whip has taken careful note of the noble Lord’s comments.

My Lords, permitted development rights are still insisting that heat pumps are sited a metre away from the boundary of properties. Given the Minister’s welcome commitment to heat pumps and to getting these new homes with low-carbon solutions, what plans do the Government have to update PDR to ensure that heat pumps can play the role that we need them to?

One of the factors of the UK’s planning system is that different interpretations are given by different local authorities. I suspect that certain Members on the Opposition Benches would criticise us if we dictated to local authorities how they should implement their own planning policies. Clearly, we need to work with them. As I said earlier, there is a huge range of different areas and property types. Some local authorities are quite permissive in what they will allow and some are not, but we continue to work with them to make sure that they are abreast of all the latest guidance.