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George Clarke explores where the truth lies on pricing

Finding the absolute truth on any issue at the moment isn’t easy.

Information can be ‘spun’ in many different directions to the point where finding the truth can be very difficult.

And even when we personally believe something to be true, there are always seeds of doubt planted in the news and social media. 

I remember the days before smart phones, the internet, social media channels and 24- hour news channels existed.

If you wanted to find out what was happening in the world you generally switched on the TV to catch the 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock news made by broadcasters and journalists who were seen as having certain professional standards.

The BBC was regarded as one of the best of them.

What we need to realise now is that there is a big difference between ‘information’ and ‘news’. News should be trying its absolute hardest to report the truth or debate an issue in a fair and balanced way.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case even before social media, the internet and 24-hour news, but news agency at least had to think about the consequences of any story they published. 

He basically accuses backbench MPs of intentionally spreading misinformation about heat pumps

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador

Checks and balances

Nowadays, we are absolutely bombarded with ‘information’, that can be published by anyone across social media and the internet.

Many of these become ‘misinformation’ that are not subject to any checks or balances.

There is a deluge of information that can be conflicting and confusing. Information is very quickly manipulated and distorted to become quite dangerous and damaging ‘misinformation’.

How on earth do you distinguish between professionally reported news stories and ‘information’ that has been manipulated, doctored or even fabricated to try and influence public opinion, often is a bad way?

Finding the truth on any issue these days is really tough and to make matters even worse, sometimes on your journey to find the truth you are relentlessly being attacked and undermined by those who have published the ‘misinformation’ for their own self-interest.

I’m not sure AI is going to make things any better when it comes to finding the truth!

Healthy and honest debate about the pros and cons of any issue is unbelievably important, but unfortunately the journey we are making to net zero isn’t escaping this often toxic, misinformation world.

The tragic thing about this is that when misinformation causes such chaotic confusion with the public, it actually slows down our transition to a zero carbon future. If you sow the seeds of doubt, you reduce the pace of change.

This is what is happening in the battle (and unfortunately it has become a battle!) to move away from fossil-fuel gas boilers to air source heat pumps.

Controversy heats up the debate

The debate as to how we heat our homes has never been so controversial. 

Just this month it has been alleged that the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), who represent members of the gas boiler industry, has paid a PR company over the last few years to generate hundreds of articles and interviews to lobby the UK government on energy policy, while subjecting the heat pumps industry to intense criticism

I have to say The Climate Show on Sky News (23rd January 2024), presented by Tom Heap, gave a very balanced view on the pros and cons of heat pumps over gas boilers, but raised the issue of damaging misinformation.

What was very fascinating about the piece was how Lord Callanan (Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance) responded to Tom Heap’s question about misinformation

It’s worth quoting some of the discussion:

Tom Heap - “We are seeing some pretty hairy headlines about the failures of heat pumps and quite a lot online as well. Do you think misinformation is being spread?”

Lord Callanan - “I think misinformation is very definitely being spread and some people are funding campaigns of misinformation…a lot of the information out there is nonsensical”.

Tom Reap - “Why do you think these myths, as you call them, have such traction? … even on your own Conservative backbenches”.

Lord Callanan - “Some people … (in Parliament) have a vested interest in maintaining our current supply of gas boilers”.

That is quite believable when you think about it.

This is the Energy Secretary basically accusing backbenchers of intentionally spreading misinformation about air source heat pumps, because they have a personal,vested interest in keeping the national home-heating network ON GAS!

If this is true, then it’s absolutely shocking! Members of parliament should be acting in the public interest, not their own self-interests!

I have to say I thought Tom Rap was excellent and you should definitely catch up with his The Climate Show feature online.

Hands up for honesty

In the interests of honesty and transparency of course, I am an ambassador for Ecodan Heat Pumps, so I’m sure I will be attacked by the gas boiler industry for having a vested interest in the promotion of heat pumps!

From a PR point of view I can see that being a fair line of attack.

But the absolute honest truth is that I only sign up for things that I 100% believe in.

My interest is genuinely to improve the quality of all of Britain’s homes in the most sustainable and ecological way possible, while creating greater levels of comfort in the most affordable way possible on our journey to net zero.

Obviously, we need any ecological home improvements to be as affordable as possible for the majority of the public to sign up to them too and that is never easy when you are looking to make a radical change in the way we heat our homes, during a difficult economic climate.

These are a few of the honest facts as I see them to help give you some useful information about heat pumps and hopefully put your mind at rest:

Heat pumps are ideal for the UK

Air source heat pumps DO WORK in this country. For people (or the gas industry) to claim that air source heat pumps don’t work in the UK because our country is too cold is just rubbish.

One country with the most heat pumps is Norway and its much colder in Norway than it is in Britain!

Yes, for an air source heat pump to work efficiently your home has to be insulated to a certain standard, but any decent installer wouldn’t recommend an air source heat pump unless your house was insulated up to a decent standard.


Heat pumps are more expensive

Yes, installing a new air source heat pump (ASHP) will cost your more money than replacing your old gas boiler with a new gas boiler. There is no doubt about this.

But the truth is the cost of an ASHP installation is falling all the time as the technology gets better and a larger volume of installations are happening across the industry.  But yes, the capital cost is going to be more.

We are in a very tough position at the moment where there is a big cost of living crisis, so not everyone can afford to make the change to an air source heat pump. Unfortunately there is also some scaremongering out there that the government is forcing people to make the transition away from gas.

As much as we do need to make this transition, nobody is forcing anybody to change their gas boilers.

However, if you are making any improvements to your existing home, then insulate as much as possibly can while doing the renovation work, and seriously consider changing your fossil-fuel burning gas boiler to an ASHP if you can afford it. 

Artificially low gas prices are stifling the transition to a clean and green home heating.

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador

Electric versus gas prices

There is also an argument out there that electricity is more expensive than gas, so people cannot afford to make the transition away from gas boilers to air source heat pumps, which run on electricity.

This is an interesting point!

Yes, electricity is more expensive for consumers than gas, but what many people don’t realise is that this is because of an unfair tax imposed on electricity!

It is not a level playing field at all! The UK government has imposed an ‘environment and social obligation’ tax on electricity over the past decade, but not on gas.

The money gained through these levies on electricity goes towards funding renewable energy production across the UK, which of course helps reduce emissions, but stupidly pushes up the price of electricity.

This is why electricity is more expensive than gas and puts people off moving to electric forms of heating and you need electricity to power your air source heat pump.

The reality is the actual wholesale price of electricity is LESS than gas. It is a cheaper source of power! But when you add the environment taxes imposed on electricity then it makes it more expensive than gas.

This is completely nuts and makes absolutely no sense when we are trying to move away from gas to a clean, green, electric economy!

This is why there are calls for the gas companies to pay a windfall tax to help fund renewable energies and take the edge off the price of electricity, if the government really wants to drive air source heat pump installations (the government have set a target of 600,000 ASHP installations per year by 2028, but in 2023 there were only 36,799 MCS-registered installations carried out - although the total number will be much higher than this). 

This was a big increase on the previous year and the number is increasing every year, but we are still a long way off the 600,000 target!) then the chancellor MUST rebalance electricity and gas prices.

Artificially low gas prices are stifling the transition to a clean and green home heating.

But again being completely honest, with any rebalancing of the tax system we need to make sure in these difficult times that we don’t push up gas prices, because all that will do is push more people with gas boilers into fuel poverty.

We need to get the price of electricity down, not push up the price of gas.

Hydrogen is not the answer

The gas boiler industry is claiming they have hydrogen-ready boilers in anticipation of a new hydrogen grid to replace our gas grid.

I’m afraid this really isn’t going to happen.

Britain has no plans for hydrogen to be used to heat our homes so why supply ‘hydrogen-ready’ boilers?

The government have said that domestic hydrogen is not the way forward. A peer-reviewed assessment of over 30 independent studies in 2022, concluded that hydrogen use in domestic heating is inefficient, costly and resource-intensive compared to other low-carbon options such as heat pumps.

The gas-boiler industry really need to stop selling this misinformation to the public. 

I’ve said it many times before. Making the transition to a green and sustainable future is not going to be easy especially after years of austerity and the fact that the economy has suffered so much after covid.

How can we expect those that are struggling with a huge cost of living crisis to spend money they don’t have on making the transition from cheap, fossil-fuel burning gas boilers to clean and green, electrically-powered air source heat pumps, especially when the price or electricity is artificially high due to an unfair tax on electricity?

We just can’t expect people with very little or no cash at the moment to make that commitment.

But those that can afford it should be encouraged to do it.

For those who cannot afford it, who may be living in cold, drafty homes with very little insulation and maybe living in fuel poverty, the government need to step in with more support.

There is an opportunity for real change here and if its managed properly and done collectively, it could provide a huge boost to the UK economy. 

We know we need to push the transition away from gas to clean, affordable electricity as fast as possible, but we really need to stop the lies and misinformation about the innovative, green technologies that are out there, that will hopefully, one day, benefit millions of people across the country as well as benefit the environment.

George Clarke is an architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador