UPDATE: Please find the recent update to this article here.
You may have spotted a story in the news recently claiming gas boilers will be banned in new homes from 2025, which may have lead you on to wonder why, with just six years to go, are your SAP and SBEM specialists still recommending you take the gas route?
This claim originated from Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement.
When we first heard his speech, we thought we’d be talking about how £3billion is going into the construction of 30,000 new affordable homes, and another billion to help SME builders compete against the big developers.
But then he came out with this bombshell:
"We will introduce a Future Homes Standard, mandating the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025."
Although he didn’t specify gas, it’s reasonable to include gas within the fossil fuel family, so you can understand why this quote grabbed the headlines.
There are hints in previous Government reports that things were going to start moving in this direction, but not at such a pace…
The Clean Growth Strategy in 2017 puts forward plans to stop new homes from using oil or coal heating systems from the mid-2020s, but only in locations where mains gas isn’t available. The Clean Air Strategy, published last year, also talks about banning oil and coal heating, as well as restricting wood burning stoves in urban areas, but again doesn’t mention a gas phase-out.
Maybe Hammond had been reading the ‘UK Housing: Fit for the Future’ report created by the Committee for Climate Change last month, which recommended new homes from 2025 weren’t connected to the gas grid at all – instead using low carbon heat sources. This committee is completely independent of Government and has the job of pushing a very green agenda on Parliament.
If the UK was to stop using gas and oil to heat our homes, the only real alternative would be electricity, but as I’m writing this (on an overcast spring morning) more than half of the UKs electricity is coming from fossil fuel sources (gas and coal). So phasing out mains gas to switch to a predominantly gas-powered electricity network doesn’t make sense.
In the past ten years the UK has seen a dramatic decarbonisation of the electricity grid. Carbon emissions associated with electricity have dropped thanks to large levels of investment in offshore wind farms. At the current rate, electricity will provide cleaner energy than gas in the next few years, so it will make sense for developers to start to switch from the environmental viewpoint.
But it doesn’t make much sense financially. Electricity is at least four times the price of gas. Homes with electric heating – even those with heat pumps – would still be paying more than the same house with a gas boiler. This flies in the face of the Government’s proposals to rid us of fuel poverty.
It’s not just electricity becoming more sustainable, as work is underway to decarbonise the gas grid also. Firms are putting more investment into biogas and anaerobic digestion plants, and research continues into adding hydrogen into the current supply.
So if both gas and electricity are set to become greener every year, and if both industries and putting more investment into green alternatives, why would the Government consider the phase out of one and encourage us to adopt the more expensive one?
This means Building Regulations will need to set out the types of heating system that aren’t allowable. However as things currently stand that isn’t happening. Both Part L and Section 6 are using methodology that was last updated in 2012. The decarbonisation of electricity has happened since this data was produced. So SAP and SBEM assessors are still encouraging gas boilers for heating because, according to the outdated methodology they are forced to work with, gas is seen to be more environmentally friendly.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE) published new methodology in 2016 to take into account the fact that electricity has become greener, and a further release is expected any month now. However, without a change in regulations to reference these documents, they are just going to sit on a shelf collecting dust in a Watford office.
The Hackitt Review post-Grenfell was seen as the reason for Building Regulations not changing a few years ago. You would expect Government departments to point to Brexit as a good excuse for not releasing new regulations since then.
At Energist we will continue to patiently wait for news on a new Part L. Maybe this new publication will give us a fresh understanding on how the Government intends to push energy efficiency in our homes in a post-Brexit, green-electricity future.
And - one final point of interest - the Government’s own summary of the Spring Statement makes no reference to a fossil fuel ban. Instead, it commits us to “future-proofing new build homes with low carbon heating and world leading levels of energy efficiency”
It would appear Hammond’s words are already being swept under the carpet.