Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s long awaited Heat & Buildings Strategy was this afternoon greeted with similar disappointment from energy campaigners and industry as the premier achieved with August’s Hydrogen Strategy.
Released in late morning but extensively pre-briefed, the 368 page Heat & Buildings Strategy bears deep scars from wrangling over its ambitions between the premier, his chancellor and energy secretary, including objections from Conservative critics to the cost faced by poor families resulting from Johnson’s agenda for Net Zero by 2050.
Absent from today’s delayed plan are any measures for a mass insulation of Britain’s 30 million homes and workplaces. It thus fails to remedy the botching of the Green Homes Grant, aborted in February by Sunak.
Mass building insulation is widely accepted as the cheapest, quickest, most job-creating way to decarbonise home heat, the government’s source reported this spring of 20.8% of all UK CO2e emissions.
Instead, the strategy’s cornerstone promises £5,000 per home grants to install air- or ground-sourced heat pumps, but with the subsidy capped at 30,000 installations for each of only three years.
Critics were quick to point out that 90,000 homes converted, even for a budgeted £ 450 million public outlay, is a miniscule share of Britain’s 25 million homes, predominantly gas-connected. The document itself echoes the government’s ‘minimum market capacity’ of 600,00 heat pumps installed annually and as early as 2028.
Ministers hope the engineered jump-start for electric home heat pumps will cut unit instal costs by 30% before 2025. But their highlighted figure of 240,000 skilled ‘green collar’ jobs created by a distant 2035 looks meagre, compared to other calculations of new jobs needed.
Costed measures in the strategy include:
- A £10 billion target for new green investment. Critics alleged that only £ 4 billion is truly new money, the rest having been pledged by ScottishPower and its parent Iberdrola in February.
- £ 600 m to extend EV charging, including on-street
- £625 m for tree-planting
- £120 m to promote SMRs, the mini-nuclear reactors built by Rolls-Royce. Despite heavy pre-release briefing, today’s document says a decision on public cash for a conventional plant, thought to be Sizewell C, will only come before the end of this Parliament.
- £ 140 m to promote further two already growing clusters for clean hydrogen in Teesside and in the NorthWest
Other commitments include
- banning instals of new gas boilers after 2035, incentivised by grants from the Boiler Upgrade Scheme
- revising the impact of levies such as the ECO and FiT to minimise their impact via bills on poorest consumers
- ensuring up to a third of pumps by 2028 are installed in the 300,000 new homes planned for construction each year
- consulting on phasing out by 2026 installation of fossil-fuelled Agas in homes not connected to gas grids. Non-domestic buildings would be affected two years earlier
- supporting industry’s trials of 100% hydrogen heat at village scale by 2025
- pushing for all fuel-poor homes to reach EPC standard “C” by 2030, including via incentives to private landlords
The perpetually boosterish premier told industry leaders convened this morning that market forces and consumer choice both were favouring towards rapid decarbonisation worldwide. Mangling the slogan of fictional 1980s film character Gordon Gekko, Johnson cheesily told the tycoons “Green is good. Green is right. Green works”.
Baroness Julia Brown, chair of business sustainability body the Carbon Trust, characterised Johnson’s package as ‘underwhelming’.
She told BBC Radio 4 that the Strategy’s target of 600,000 heat pumps installed each year by 2028 was “unlikely to be hit”. It was 200,000 units per year lower than the requirement of the Climate Change Committee.
Shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband said the strategy answered neither of the questions on closing the “yawning gap” between government promises and delivery on decarbonisation, nor on creation of necessary green jobs.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas decried the strategy’s failure to launch a street-by-street national campaign for home insulation, needed by Britain for decades.
“The government’s plan is like buying an old leaky teapot, not up to the job. It’s absurd to be putting heat pumps in homes which people fear they cannot heat economically”, said Lucas.
The grid’s chief engineer David Wright greeted the draft as ‘raising the bar’. “We now need to see what this means in practice”, he added.
“Now the focus needs to be on implementation and investment in infrastructure & technologies. We’re at a critical stage in the journey where Net Zero is possible with the technologies and opportunities we have today and, in order to deliver on this, we have to accelerate and ramp up efforts to deploy long-term solutions at scale”.
ENA chief executive David Smith opined: “The prime minister has made it clear that customer choice is a central component of the Net Zero Strategy. The variety of technologies being developed and deployed for heat, transport, buildings and industry provides this exact choice.
“With regulation to support strategic, early investment, our energy networks will unlock Net Zero by connecting these technologies and making sure the right infrastructure is in the right place at the right time”, Smith declared.
Read HMG’s Heat and Buildings Strategy here.