The UK Government intends to eliminate various upcoming targets aimed at promoting the adoption of lower carbon heating systems in off-grid homes. They are also expressing concerns about the cost and effectiveness of heat pumps in these particular properties.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has declared a postponement of the prohibition on installing oil and LPG boilers in off-grid homes until 2035. These comprehensive proposals, allowing existing fossil fuel heating systems to remain in use in certain homes for almost another decade, are presented by the government as part of a series of policy reforms called a ‘new approach to achieve net-zero emissions.’

These reforms encompass exemptions for specific households that will no longer be required to adhere to plans for phasing out the installation of natural gas boilers by 2035. Additionally, private landlords will no longer be compelled to make energy efficiency upgrades to their properties by the end of this decade.

The prime minister asserts that these changes will not jeopardize the country’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. However, these proposals have raised doubts about the suitability of heat pumps for a significant number of off-grid homes.

The government has decided not to proceed with the phase-out of oil, LPG boilers, and new coal heating installations by 2026 in homes not connected to the UK gas grid. They state,

“Many of these homes are not suitable for heat pumps, so this ensures homeowners are not forced to spend approximately £10-15,000 on home upgrades within just three years.”

This decision to delay the phase-out of off-grid installations is accompanied by several other commitments intended to influence heat policy.

The government also plans to expand funding for its Boiler Upgrade Scheme. The flagship incentive for heat pumps will now provide successful applicants with a £7,500 grant to install a heat pump in their property, a 50% increase from the previous £5,000 offered for air source heat pump installations.

The Boiler Upgrade Scheme was introduced in 2022 to help the government meet its target of installing 600,000 heat pumps in UK homes annually from 2028, a central element of the 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Among other notable proposals in the HVAC sector, the government intends to eliminate policies that mandate landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their rental properties, instead encouraging improvements “where feasible.”

Another commitment is the introduction of an exemption for phasing out natural gas boiler installations up to 2035 in households unable to switch to low-carbon heating. The government anticipates this will cover approximately one-fifth of homes, including those off the gas grid that would require expensive retrofitting or extensive electrical connections. However, specific details on how these exemptions will be implemented are not provided.

In a speech, the prime minister emphasized that the decision to delay these targets would provide the public with more time to transition to heat pumps. He stated,

“We will never compel anyone to replace their existing boiler with a heat pump.” He clarified that the switch to heat pumps would only be necessary when replacing a boiler and not until 2035.

The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee responded to the prime minister’s commitments with criticism, particularly regarding the lack of commitment to expanding the role of heat pumps and electric vehicles. The committee expressed concerns about the government’s ability to meet its legally binding carbon targets for 2050, given the importance of individual and household actions in reducing emissions. They praised the increased funding through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme but criticized the delay in scaling up heat pump use in off-grid and challenging-to-decarbonize properties, attributing it to a lack of leadership and consistency.

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