The CCC argues that from 2025, new homes should be disconnected to from gas grid, with gas boilers and hobs being banned within the next six years. Rather, new homes should be heated using low carbon energy sources and feature ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation.
The report also recommends ensuring that existing homes are low carbon and resilient to the changing climate as a major UK infrastructure priority, which must be supported as such by the Treasury. These homes should be making use of low carbon heating sources such as heat pumps and heat networks.
For both new builds and retrofitted existing homes, performance and compliance often fall short of stated design standards, which the CCC says deceives consumers and increases costs in the long-term.
With efforts to reduce greenhouse gases stalling and many new building at a greater risk of flooding and overheating, many UK homes are deemed unfit for the future.
Underpinning these problems is a skills gap in housing design, construction and in the installation of new technologies, with important steps in reducing emissions being held back as a result. The report states: “The UK government should launch a nationwide training programme and use initiatives under the Industrial Strategy’s Construction Sector Deal to plug this gap, by investing in new support to train designers, builders and installers of low-carbon heating, and measures to improve energy and water efficiency, ventilation, thermal comfort and property-level flood protection.”
Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, said: “This report confirms what we have long-suspected: UK homes are largely unprepared for climate change. The government now has an opportunity to act. There must be compliance with stated building designs and standards. We need housing with low-carbon sources of heating. And we must finally grasp the challenge of improving our poor levels of home energy efficiency.”
Commenting on the suggested ban on gas boilers, Simon Phelan, chief executive of boiler installation business Hometree, said: “As a sustainably conscious, modern company, Hometree would be fully supportive of the shift away from gas central heating technology to more environmentally focused ones. In particular, electric boiler and heat pumps would be great technologies to push into new homes, but work needs to be done to ensure the customer does not end up paying more - either for the technology itself, or for the ongoing electricity costs to run it.
“Either way, Hometree intends to be at the forefront of decarbonising UK high carbon emitting homes, and would see this shift as a huge step in the right direction.”
However, former government minister Mike Foster has spoken out against the report from the CCC. He stated: “The authors of this report are living on another planet when they should be giving realistic options on how to save this one. Some of the suggestions simply don’t reflect how people actually live in their homes.
“We absolutely have to reduce our carbon emissions but we need to take people with us on that journey. Banning gas boilers is a stupid thing to do. We need to change the type of gas to a low carbon version, such as biomethane or hydrogen. The focus should be on future-proofing homes, not banning something prematurely. So gas grid connections, using biomethane or hydrogen, should still be part of the mix - not banned.
“That way we keep the convenience and affordability of a gas boiler, without the carbon. Instead, it seems the Committee listen to their friends from the heat pump industry and plug their appliances instead. Ironically, that means using electricity generated in gas-fired power stations. I have to question why the Committee are so keen on fitting heat pumps when so many other, more economically viable options exist.”
Ian McCluskey, head of technical services and policy at IGEM, the professional engineering institution for the global gas industry, also raises objections: “We do not agree with the recommendation that no new houses built after 2025 should be connected to the gas grid and we would urge the government not to rule out any options lest it impact on the long-term feasibility of a no regrets solution to the decarbonisation of heat.”
“Heat networks currently provide just two per cent of UK heat demand and heat pumps cost far more than the average domestic gas connection. Research has shown that 90 per cent of consumers cannot or will not be prepared to pay for alternative low-carbon heating systems. And while air source heat pumps are expected to become cheaper in the future, they currently cost £6,000-£7,000.”
“Britain has one of the most advanced and efficient gas infrastructure networks in the world with 23.2 million customers connected to 284,000km of pipeline, including almost 85 per cent of homes. The distribution networks alone are worth over £17 billion and the industry contributes £2.37 billion gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy.
“The existence of the gas grid does not preclude other solutions for decarbonisation. Hydrogen can play a valuable role as part of the heating solution for UK buildings in combination with hybrid heat system solutions and more energy efficient homes. These latest recommendations make that future less likely and more difficult to achieve.”
Darren McMahon, marketing director at Viessmann, said: 'Greenhouse gas emission reductions from UK housing have stalled and we need to act decisively if we are to be successful in deploying at scale low carbon heat technologies such as heat pumps or even hydrogen heating.
'However, mass deployment of heat pumps or hydrogen feels like an overstep if we can’t get the simple things right like ensuring gas boiler installation best practice across the market. This is important not only because it delivers heating bill reductions for consumers and cost-effective decarbonisation, it is also necessary to prepare the stock for the widespread roll-out of low carbon heat technology that needs to operate at lower temperatures.
'The boiler plus policy introduced in April 2018, which Viessmann was instrumental in conceiving and advocating, was a big step towards making advanced controls mandatory with boiler installations in the UK market. However, boiler plus did not go all the way and by failing to do so falls short in preparing big parts of the market for further disruption to achieve long term decarbonisation objectives.
'It is crucial that these gaps are addressed so that everyone can benefit from best practice. If boiler plus measures are extended beyond combis there could be up to 0.335TWh of gas demand reduction in 2020, rising to 5.03 TWh per year in 2034.'
However, heat pump manufacturer Kensa Heat Pumps has welcomed has, for the most part, welcomed the Committee for Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendation.
Simon Lomax, CEO of the Kensa Group says:“We wholly embrace the CCC’s call for urgent action and would hope the Government would look to introduce this requirement before 2025. The report identified a skills gap, but the knowledge and technology is already here and is deploying at scale in more challenging retrofit applications.
'Whilst the headlines focus on the deployment of heat pumps in new builds, the Committee for Climate Change report also claims insulation levels must be significantly increased in current homes if heat pumps are to be deployed at scale to our existing housing stock, blaming the stalled uptake of insulation as a major contributing factor to the increase in household emissions last year. However Kensa questions the Committee’s suggestion that insulation is a pre-requisite before a heat pump installation.
According to Dr Matthew Trewhella, managing director of Kensa Contracting: “The vast majority of Kensa Contracting’s large-scale retrofit works are in social properties with an EPC rating of D or lower. Delta-E, in its December 2018 study into the ‘Technical Feasibility of Electric Heating in Rural Off-Gas Grid Dwellings’, reported that, ‘based on average peak winter day temperatures, around 84% of homes can be electrified at their current level of insulation. This increases to around 93% if all suitable homes have loft & wall insulation installed’. Whilst we strongly encourage the roll out of insulation to reduce household emissions, this should not be seen as a requirement before the retrofit of a ground source heat pump.”