Improving Home Insulation is Essential for Heating Without Gas
Retrofit has a direct link to energy policy and security that increases the urgency of making UK homes better insulated.
Well over 80% of UK homes use gas as their main energy source for heating. This is one reason why UK households are responsible for around 40% of carbon emissions.
We cannot achieve net zero without replacing millions of gas boilers. In the process we’ll also help the UK achieve greater energy security – currently 50% of the gas we use is imported.
But phasing out gas boilers in favour of heat pumps is a long-term programme. If we want to reduce our reliance on gas in the short term the answer is to have better insulated homes that consume less energy. This is consistent with the drive to ensure that all social housing achieves EPC Level C by 2030.
Heating Without Natural Gas – Hydrogen?
It’s been suggested that existing boilers and distribution networks could be modified to use hydrogen. There are two big question marks here.
First, ‘blue hydrogen’ is itself produced from natural gas. It relies on carbon capture and storage to be a carbon neutral energy source.
Green hydrogen generated by the electrolysis of water would mean using renewably generated electricity to make hydrogen rather than to power the built environment directly (making it less efficient overall).
It’s also far from certain that hydrogen could safely replace natural gas for domestic energy supplies.
Until there’s a better case put forward for hydrogen, heat pumps look like the way to get rid of domestic gas boilers. But heat pumps won’t adequately warm a poorly insulated home – so simply swapping gas boilers for heat pumps isn’t the answer.
Better Home Insulation Must be the Priority
Improved insulation for UK homes must be the first priority. The big advantage is that we know how to do this. Much of the work needed is relatively straightforward. For example, ensuring that all social homes have the recommended thickness of loft insulation, insulating all wall cavities and replacing leaky doors and windows would have a significant impact on energy use.
There’s a risk of getting lost in the huge scale of net zero retrofit and the complexities of energy supply strategies. By focusing attention on improved energy efficiency we’re still helping to bring net zero and energy security closer. We’re also doing something practical to help the millions of people who are struggling to keep warm.