This post is by Adam Bell, Green Alliance’s policy adviser on low carbon energy.
The next ten years must see a revolution in the way we heat our homes. A third of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heat, and we will need to both reduce the amount of heat we use in homes, and change the way we produce it, if we are to have any chance of meeting our carbon targets.
The Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is intended to help achieve this by providing financial incentives to homes and businesses to replace their current heating with a renewable system, such as a heat pump, a solar thermal installation, or a biomass boiler.
A consultation on the domestic part of this policy was launched yesterday, and from summer next year, homes in the UK will be able to receive payments for generating heat using a range of low carbon technologies.
However, there’s a hoop they’ll need to jump through first: to receive RHI payments for installing a renewable heating system, they’ll first need to deploy a range of energy efficiency measures identified by a Green Deal provider. This is not, on the face of it, unreasonable: heat pumps, for example, work best in well-insulated houses, and packaging both policies together helps ensure that the RHI delivers heat as cost-effectively as it can.
Taking reality into account
But there is a major problem with this approach, one which is revealed by the RHI ‘Consumer Journey’ at the rear of the document, which shows how the government imagines people will approach this incentive. In the diagram consumers begins by being unaware of the scheme, then hear about it from a trusted source before deciding whether it will work for them. Unfortunately this rather falls down when considering why people actually replace their boilers.
The majority of new boilers are installed either as direct replacements for boilers that are breaking or broken, or when people are having other work such as an extension done in their home.
This is something of a problem for the scheme, as someone who wants to replace a failing boiler is unlikely to want to wait until their home has been improved to Green Deal standard before installing a new renewable heating device. Depending on the state of their property, this could mean several months without heating. Consumers are highly unlikely to bear such a possibility.
There is a risk that if someone buys a heat pump without getting energy efficiency measures, they will either fork out extra cash for a bigger model than they’d need if their home was well insulated, or buy a model that’s too small to heat their home properly until the energy efficiency is upgraded. This presents a risk to public perception of the technology, already damaged from problems with existing installations. But this doesn’t mean that Green Deal participation should be a requirement for accessing the scheme – government needs to find other ways to strengthen installation standards.
Those designing the RHI should consider what situation the majority of people are likely to be in when they think about changing their boiler. Otherwise, uptake of the scheme will be limited to people under a providential set of circumstances – those who have completed all their Green Deal requirements and are in the market for a new boiler. This could damage our efforts to decarbonise domestic heat.