Sustainability 1,147 views Apr 15, 2021

The UK urgently needs to decarbonise its grid, yet the cost of more sustainable supplies such as electricity will be untenable for the everyday bill payer writes Alex Hill, Managing Director at Whitecode. The technology is without question extremely promising, but how will the reality affect the general public? Will it further push consumers into greater fuel poverty? Is our green ambition just a dream?

A report produced by the thinktank, Ember, revealed that renewable energy generated by wind, sunlight, water and wood constituted 42% of the UK’s electricity last year compared with 41% generated from gas and coal plants together. These findings are hugely encouraging if the UK is going to fulfil its aim to eliminate fossil fuel heating. The report represents quite a milestone and reassuringly suggests that we are weaning ourselves off unsustainable heat supplies.

The war effort is clearly working, no doubt as a result of assistance from the UK government which has launched a series of schemes – including the Clean Heat Grant – to encourage homeowners to adopt renewable technologies. These schemes sit well with the ban of fossil fuel heating in new UK homes, which will come into effect in 2025.

Whilst this all sounds highly encouraging and positive, the caveat is the cost. Air source heat pumps have been lobbied and heralded as the solution to cleaner heat, yet the financial burden of electricity will weigh heavy on consumers. When I started out as an engineer around 20 years ago the cost of electricity was 8p per kilowatt. Fast forward to 2021 and the amount peaks at 17p! In comparison, the price of gas hasn’t changed much at all and has remained at the cheap price of 3p.

As a result of electricity’s high costs, we are seeing some homeowners receiving extortionate energy bills each month, sums well above the average running costs. Everyone is talking about going green and being carbon neutral, but what about fuel poverty? What are the solutions? If you have a gas boiler that runs cheaply in comparison; where is the incentive for you to change your boiler and supply? The ban on fossil fuel heating is solely for new homes and does not account for the existing stock.

Some boiler manufacturers are exploring other options including hydrogen, which derives from water and has the potential to be very sustainable. It could be that this technology is another option to electricity. At the moment electricity is financially unviable for many consumers.

Clearly there needs to be greater attention paid to this matter, and it would help to think laterally and in terms of longevity. In 15 years, a homeowner may have to upgrade their heat pump as they would do their boiler. A new boiler would cost you around £2000 in total, yet a heat pump comes in at around £5000 at least. This is with the proviso that there are a sufficient number of F Gas-qualified installers who are licensed to service heat pumps. Many boiler installers will need to upskill, and this may come at a higher cost both for installers and homeowners.

In our pursuit to be green we must take a more holistic approach and account for every eventuality and ramification possible. On a separate note, the move towards electricity needs to be better funded. Whilst it is positive to see that we are steadily eliminating carbon-hungry fuel, someone has to pay for the decarbonisation on our national grid. At present the reality isn’t moving in tandem with the expectations, and if things remain unchanged, I fear it will push many into even deeper fuel poverty.