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Electrifying heat: the UK’s pathway to Net Zero

Without a doubt, it has been an interesting year for anyone working in Westminster. Amidst all the mayhem surrounding Brexit, we have seen some groundbreaking commitments from the Government when it comes to climate change and whilst many decisions have done the opposite, the announcement of Net Zero by 2050 has put us in a good light. Not only has the Government legislated an ambitious climate target but by being the first major economy to do so, the UK has set a precedent for the rest of the world to follow. However, Government action on climate change will not be measured on ambition. Instead, it will be quantified by the emission reduction that we are able to achieve over the next thirty years.

We will need to decarbonise all areas of the UK economy in order to fulfil our commitments on time and it is essential that we recognise the scale of change required, particularly in sectors such as transport and heat. The decarbonisation of heat risks being underestimated given that fossil fuel heat generators currently dominate an overwhelming 97% of the market. A comprehensive market transformation is required so that we can replace these current systems with low carbon alternatives and the actionable steps required to drive this change should not be taken lightly; heat decarbonisation is amongst the toughest challenges facing climate policy and it demands our attention.

Given the increase in low carbon solutions required in order to overtake fossil fuel boilers as the dominant heating solution in UK homes, support to deploy these technologies should be a key priority. In its recommendations to Government earlier this year, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) identified the role electric heating solutions such as electric and hybrid heat pumps will play in the decarbonisation of heat over the next 15 years. This will start with new-build homes from 2025 as part of the Future Homes Standard announced within the Spring Statement back in March, however, we must see longer-term commitments to phase out fossil fuels more widely in the years that closely follow.

Albeit being the more logical starting point, focusing on new-builds alone will not go far enough to reach zero carbon targets. We know that the existing installed base of gas boilers, which is significantly larger than new build, will also need to be updated or replaced. We must ensure that opportunities are taken to decarbonise heat across the country, particularly in properties off the gas grid, non-residential buildings and where heat pumps and hybrid heat pumps can easily be retrofitted. In the long term, policy will need to go further to ensure that heat pumps are deployed effectively – and extensively – to ensure that all new heating systems are low carbon across the building stock, replacing gas boilers as the dominant technology. More will need to be done to level the playing field with conventional gas heating systems, and to close the low carbon skills gap. Measures will need to be taken to prepare heating engineers and technicians for the wide uptake of heat pumps, and incentives will need to ring true not only for installers but for the majority of the public who have previously relied solely on gas boilers. 

Schneider Electric looks forward to supporting the UK’s challenging transition to a low carbon economy, through its development of solutions that align with the heat pumps and the wider heat electrification agenda.

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