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George Clarke calls for big policy change from government on sustainable heating

I’ve recently moved to Gloucestershire. The reasons I’ve moved there is because it is staggeringly green, beautiful and in the particular area where I live the people are passionate about reversing climate change and protecting the environment.

I’ve kept my small place in London because I need to live between the capital and the countryside because of my job. Yes, I feel terribly guilty about owning a second home, but that’s for another blog altogether.

My place in London has an amazing low carbon air source heat pump, which I can honestly say I love, but my place in Gloucestershire, which I’ve only had for a few months, has an oil fired boiler and I hate it!

Our national dependency on oil and gas is way too high, but that is all about to change across the country as well as in my humble home in the countryside.

Replace all oil boilers and half the gas boilers with an air source heat pump and we would reduce our national CO2 emissions by 8%.

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, campaigner and TV presenter

Not prepared for even small increases

The Committee on Climate Change provides independent advice to the government on what actions it needs to take to reverse the damage we are causing to the planet.

The Committee published two ‘Progress Reports to Parliament’ on July 10th 2019, one entitled ‘View reducing UK Emissions’ and ‘Preparing for Climate Change’ making key recommendations such as NET-ZERO policy being embedded across all levels and departments of government.

But, there were also some damning judgements that the country is not prepared for even the smallest increases in global temperatures and that many national plans and policies lack “a basic acknowledgment of long-term climate change”.

The government made an official response to these reports on the 15th of October 2019 and the CCC hit straight back on the same day with this.

“When it comes to preparing for the effects of climate change, the government’s approach continues to rest on the need for further research and guidance, instead of action”.

Go for the headline

UNBELIEVABLE! Let’s spend ages and ages TALKING about it and let’s not rush into DOING anything about it!

And as we all know, so often when the government does eventually act it doesn’t go far enough. Just do a tiny amount to get the announcement away and achieve that that all important headline!

Well, when it comes to climate change it needs to get its finger out and be brave and bold and for once it needs to go beyond big recommendations rather than scratch the surface of policy change.


Becoming carbon-positive

It is recognised that Greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 43% compared to 1990 levels and that is a fantastic turnaround. So, in 30 years a lot has changed. That gives us hope that we can do even more over the next 30 years to 2050.

75% of this 43% drop has been achieved from the power sector. Disappointingly, other sectors such as Transport and the building industry have hardly made a dent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the last 30 years.

Not good enough!

In my opinion, by 2050 we actually need to go beyond NET-ZERO and become fully CARBON-POSITIVE eliminating ALL fossil fuels from our operations and be generating MORE from renewable energy than we consume.

It is an ambitious target, but if we move very quickly, have the political will to radically transform legislation then we can do it.

If buildings and homes haven’t done enough to reverse climate change then we need to tackle this NOW and there is a massive amount that can be done.

Some are very quick wins.

Oil versus heat pumps

Let’s take oil. There are currently 1.6 million homes throughout the UK using oil to heat them and when we are pushing to be NET-CARBON it is beyond ridiculous that 70,000 brand new oil boilers are installed into homes every year. Bonkers!

Each one of those boilers generates on average of 5.3 tonnes of CO2 from each house every year. That’s a total of 8,480,000 tonnes of CO2!

Not to mention the amount of pollution and emissions caused by the massive number of diesel lorries used to deliver the 2 or 3 tank-fulls of oil needed for every single home every year! A calculation I’ve not done yet.

If legislation was brought in tomorrow encouraging the installation of Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) rather than Oil fired boilers then this is how things would stack up.

For an average home a heat pump creates 1.6 tonnes of CO2 per every household rather than the 5.3 tonnes if you used oil.

That is 5,920,000 tonnes of CO2 saved every year on homes currently using oil. A reduction of 2% of our carbon emissions!

Gas versus heat pumps

Let’s look at gas for a second. We have close to 28 million existing homes in the UK. Let’s assume half of these swapped their gas boilers to an ASHP so that’s 14 million homes.

A gas boiler currently emits, on average, 3.7 tonnes of CO2 per house.

If a heat pump only emits 1.6 tonnes per house then that is a whopping 29.4 million tonnes of CO2 saved per annum – A 6% reduction in our carbon emissions.

So, by replacing all oil boilers and half of the existing gas boilers with an air source heat pump we would reduce our national CO2 emissions by 8%.

That is more than half of the emissions from all homes at the moment! A massive step!

The downside?

As ever, it’s the capital cost of putting an innovative piece of green technology.

The average cost of a full new oil boiler system including radiators and labour etc. is around £6,000. An air source heat pump is around £9,000. OK, the government has stepped in with its RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) where you can get thousands of pounds back on the installation of your ASHP over a 7 year period, but you’ve still got to find the money in the first place!

That isn’t easy! So, the government needs to sort this out.

If they support and boost the green revolution from examples like this, then over the long-term, more people will convert to ASHPs and that will begin to reduce the capital cost as more people use it.

It’s worth also noting that these technologies will also help reduce fuel poverty because the price of gas and oil is only going to go through the uninsulated roof!

The depleting resources are going to be so expensive so we must invest in alternative forms of renewable heat now and on a massive scale!

In summary

In 2020 the government is due to announce changes to Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Power) and Part F (Ventilation) of the Building Regulations.

I hope it is brave and bold enough to go further than ever before to help, support and incentivise homeowners to reduce our national CO2 emissions, increase levels of home comfort, reduce the frightening levels of fuel poverty and create the biggest green revolution the home building industry desperately needs.

Then I’ll go way beyond simply putting a new ASHP in my home in Gloucestershire.

My plan is to make it one of the greenest homes in Britain! A low running cost, carbon positive home for life!

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions, and creative director of George Clarke + Partners.