George Clarke points to a near future without gas and oil for home heating

“The times they are a-changin” is one of the most memorable lyrics penned by the brilliant Bob Dylan.

This line has been cropping up in my mind a lot recently, not just because of Brexit, but because of the devastation we are causing to the environment.

That word ‘change’ jumped out at me again when my hero, Sir David Attenborough, made a world-changing speech on the 3rd of December 2013 at the UN Climate Change summit in Poland where he said:

“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate Change.”

We don’t need to ‘grow’ what we are doing, we need to ‘change’ what we are doing.

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, author and TV presenter

Climate strike

And then in February of this year young school children across the country went on ‘Climate Strike.’ 

Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old pupil from Sweden who last August held a solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament,  has inspired up to 70,000 schoolchildren across the world to hold protests each week by refusing to go to school and taking to the streets with ecological banners instead.

One banner in particular stuck with me. It read, “We want the chance for change now!”

That word again, change.  I think it’s absolutely brilliant! Good for them.

I would have much preferred to have gone on a climate change protest than do maths when I was 14!

And if in my maths lessons they had used statistics relating to the environmental devastation we are causing to the planet then I may have listened more in lessons.

Teach your children well

Here is a theoretical maths question I wish I’d been taught.

If we chopped down ‘x’ million square miles of Amazonian rainforest last year and there is only ‘y’ million square miles left, how many years would it take before all the rainforest is gone and we all die?

Here is another.

If one square mile of Amazonian rainforest turns ‘x’ amount of carbon dioxide back into oxygen to keep us all alive, how many square miles of rainforest are needed to absorb all of the carbon dioxide the human race will create in 1990 (that’s the year I left school)? 

Now these questions would have got more of my attention in maths, rather than the bland boring equations we were given, laid out on a page in such abstract terms that I would have been better off not attending my maths lessons and instead staying at home with a bowl of Heinz Spaghetti Numbers! 

Mother Nature and the environment is fascinatingly beautiful, healthy, fun and interesting and our very existence depends on it, therefore it is worth fighting for. Maths isn’t.  

The kids are shouting

One, journalist critical of the kid’s Climate Strike wrote, ‘Children would learn more about the environment if they stayed in school’.

What a ridiculous comment.

I suppose if they used ecology to teach maths then yes, the journalist may have a point. But, they don’t and even that is besides the point.

These amazing young people aren’t protesting to ‘learn’, they are protesting to have a voice!

Staying in school and being lovely quiet kids, isn’t a protest is it?

The headline from the journalist may as well have read “kids should be seen and not heard”. 

These kids are shouting and we need to listen, so they have my wholehearted support!

For the future of our planet and for the future of our children things must change and fast. We need a healthy, balanced eco-system where our economy works with ecology.

The relentless push for economic growth in our globalised markets, combined with the staggering growth in the global population makes our current system unsustainable.

We don’t need to ‘grow’ what we are doing, we need to ‘change’ what we are doing.

Change your boiler

We need our country and the rest of the planet to be fully powered using clean, renewable energy.

Thankfully, in the UK that change is beginning to happen. Not fast enough unfortunately, but at least we have started the process.

In 2017 low-carbon energy sources accounted for more than 50% of the energy we created. The move to a smart, renewables-led energy system is well underway, but we all need to play our part.

There are 27 million existing homes in Britain and nearly all of them are still heated using gas or oil-fired boilers. Most boilers need to be replaced after 10-15 years of use.

We all know that we never replace our boiler until it breaks, but the fact is that because we never maintain our boilers with regular checks, (a home MOT system is another blog altogether) the working parts become less and less efficient over the years to the point where they work, but don’t give us the most efficient heat.

Embrace renewables

Changing your boiler to a new system is a fantastic opportunity for you to embrace renewables.

The lowering price or renewables is allowing low carbon energy to replace coal and gas, but obviously removing your gas or oil-fired boiler and replacing it with a new system comes at a cost.

The government have realised this and have provided an incentive scheme, which is known as The Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI.

Do the sums

Here is the maths, as I see it.

Replacing your old gas boiler for a new one will definitely be cheaper than renewables at the moment if you think short-term.

A gas-guzzling, environment polluting boiler is a very cheap, low-tech product these days. We burn stuff and it heats your home.

Let’s say for arguments sake it costs you a few grand to buy a new boiler and pay all of the labour costs to have it fitted and certified.

That will be cheaper than a renewable system. But, you will continue to burn fossil fuels where the prices for gas and oil will only get more expensive and you pollute the environment.

So, you’ve spent your £2,000 to 4,000 up front and you pay ‘x’ per year for your oil or gas. I know some families in rural areas who, at the moment are spending over £1,500 per year on oil to heat their homes! That is a lot of money and it’s not going to get any cheaper as oil and gas reserves deplete.

Amazing opportunities

But, if you are a long-term, ecological thinker then there are some amazing opportunities open to you that will help save the planet and save you money.

If you replace your gas or oil boiler with renewable technology, such as an air-source heat pump or a ground to water heat pump, then the government will pay you a subsidy for installing that smart, clean, low carbon technology.

It is a financial incentive for you to think differently.

Installing a heat pump

Let’s say for arguments sake it costs you around £7,000 to fully install a brand new Ecodan Air Source Heat Pump in your home.

Of course that is a lot of money and you need to finds that cash up front, but if you do and the installation qualifies for the Renewable Heat Incentive, then the government will give you cash payments every quarter over the next 7 years.

These payments could be around £1500 pounds per year, depending on the design of your system, possibly more!

That’s a possible £1500 a year over 7 years, which is £10,500 and a well-maintained air-source heat pump will last you a lot longer than 7 years!

So, that is your entire installation paid for, all of your heating and hot water paid for, along-with a tidy profit back in your pocket over the 7-year period, using clean energy that doesn’t destroy the planet.

It’s win, win, win, win!

Estimate how much you save

The above figures will obviously vary depending on the size of your home, how well insulated it is, how many rooms, bathrooms and radiators you have etc, but you get the eco picture.

Right now you can estimate how much energy you could earn by adopting renewable technology through RHI using the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s RHI Payment Calculator. More information can also be found on the Mitsubishi Electric Website.

The RHI is the first of its kind in the world and the UK Government expects it to contribute towards the 2020 ambition of 12% of heating coming from renewable sources.

In my view, it is a shame the government don’t give you a full grant up-front, as it is that up-front capital cost that is the barrier to most people changing to renewables.

But, I can understand that they want you to earn the incentive, by committing to be green over a long period of time, being aware of your energy use and working hard to be sustainable.

If you commit to the technology and being ecological in the long-term then you will be rewarded for it.

It is this long-term, rather than short-term thinking, that is critical to the success of an zero carbon economy.

I hope the government think long-term too and commit to the RHI incentive scheme for many years to come as there is no doubt that the more advanced and efficient the renewable technology becomes the cheaper it will be and the incentives will give people the returns they need to commit to it.

My own journey

I’m writing this from a holiday rental in Wales over half-term.

Wales built Britain’s first low-cost, ‘energy positive’ house in 2015, a home which can generate more electricity that’s it occupants will use.

I love the idea that we can create homes that are not just low or zero carbon, but are also ‘energy positive’. How cool is that?

But, I’m not just in Wales for a holiday or to celebrate their ecological culture, I’m here to give the my contractor the time and space he needs to install my first ever air-source heat pump on my house in London.

I’m so excited about it! A home game-changer!

My fully electric car arrived last month too, which is another wonderful piece of ecological technology.

I’m changing as much as I can in my life to be as clean and green as possible.

I’m sure I’ll continue to be criticised at every turn along the way, which always happens when you put your head above the parapet, but surely we can all agree that reducing our personal carbon footprint is the right thing to do, however we decide to do it.

Who knows, in this time of ecological ‘change’ and political turmoil I might even join the Green Party next.

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. He is also the inspiration behind MOBIE an educational charity which seeks to train and inspire young people to innovate in the design and construction of HOMES in the UK and abroad.