Plan to give homeowners £5,000 grants for heat pumps outlined in long-awaited heat and buildings strategy
Architects have given a cautious welcome to the government’s announcement that gas boilers are to be phased out.
Homeowners will be able to apply for a £5,000 grant to install a heat pump from April next year as part of a raft of announcements in the long-awaited heat and buildings strategy.
Due to be published later this morning, the strategy will set out how the government aims to decarbonise the UK’s 30 million buildings as it tries to reach net zero by 2050.
The grants for heat pumps come through a £450m boiler upgrade scheme, which is part of a £3.9bn funding package for decarbonising buildings over the next four years.
This will be used for programmes to decarbonise social and non-social housing through energy efficiency retrofits, to decarbonise public buildings and to fund heat networks.
However, hydrogen seems to have lost out in the argument over what the government will choose as its preferred technology for greener heating, with any decision on what role the gas will play delayed until 2026.
Boris Johnson said: “As we clean up the way we heat our homes over the next decade, we are backing our brilliant innovators to make clean technology like heat pumps as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers – supporting thousands of green jobs.
“Our new grants will help homeowners make the switch sooner, without costing them extra, so that going green is the better choice when their boiler needs an upgrade.”
The strategy appears to be a watering-down of proposals for a £7,000 starting grant for heat pumps which ministers briefed to the Times in August.
The government has still claimed that the grants will mean that heat pumps will be no more expensive and possibly cheaper to buy and run than gas boilers.
But while gas boilers start at around £1,000, air-source heat pumps are priced between £7,000 and £14,000 with ground-source heat pumps costing from £15,000 to £35,000.
The grants also do not include the cost of installing heat pumps, which can be up to £20,000 for new piping and radiators, while some homes may also need insulation to be installed to keep sufficiently warm.
A £60m programme called Heat Pump Ready has also been announced to drive technological innovation to make the systems smaller, easier to install and cheaper to run over the coming years.
In May, the government admitted that it was facing major challenges in persuading homeowners to switch to heat pumps, which it said could be noisy, too large for many properties and could increase fuel bills.
It also said that the systems could take up to several weeks to install because of the need for some homes to be given a new electricity connection or fuse upgrade.
But business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said low-carbon heating systems would become the “obvious, affordable choice” for consumers as technology improves and costs fall over the next decade.
He added that huge rises in gas prices in recent months highlighted the need to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels to “protect consumers in the long term”.
The government is also due to publish its net-zero strategy today, which will outline how carbon emissions will be reduced across the economy by making energy consumption greener.
It will come alongside the net zero review, the Treasury’s analysis on how much the UK’s decarbonisation process will cost.
Asif Din, sustainability director at Perkins & Will, said: “The focus on decreasing the UK’s housing stock’s emissions through energy-efficient heat pumps is welcome. However, a drive towards a net-zero future should not just rest on the shoulders of homeowners. It must also be the responsibility of corporate landlords and include the operational and embodied carbon associated with commercial buildings they own and the construction activity that occurs within them.”
According to the World Green Building Council, 11% of carbon emissions come from embodied carbon associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building lifecycle.
Din said: “Shortening lease lengths in the commercial office sector indicate that flexibility in design and circular design principles are becoming more critical to waste reduction and that the full life cycle carbon impact of our resources must be considered.
“To hit the net-zero embodied carbon targets, the government must incentivise businesses and supply chains to ensure projects are designed using sustainable resources and re-used materials which can be disassembled at the end of its lifespan in line with circular economy principles.”
Russell Pedley, co-founder and director of Assael Architecture, said: “Architects have long been aware of the need to design low-carbon homes and this new strategy marks a major step forward when it comes to decarbonising England’s ageing housing stock.
“However, with much emphasis placed on incentivising households to install heat pumps, it is unclear what this means for private renters, who make up nearly a fifth of the country’s household occupiers.”
He said more attention should be paid to the role build-to-rent homes could play in meeting the government’s decarbonisation targets while making up the shortfall in annual housing delivery.
Heat Pump Association chair Phil Hurley said the strategy’s “bold steps forward” would give industry and installers a ”huge confidence boost that now is the time to scale-up and retrain in preparation for the mass roll-out of heat pumps, as well as making heat pumps as affordable as boilers, so all consumers can soon access and enjoy the benefits of affordable, reliable low carbon heating that stands the test of time”.