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BEIS sets out thinking on revised approach to UK gas heating

Hydrogen and biomethane are both being considered by BEIS as part of wider work to define a clear roadmap for realising low carbon heat by 2050 at a domestic and industrial level

Gas will not be permitted as part of proposals to create a new UK standard for how clean heat must be delivered in new homes by 2025, a government policy lead has said.

Civil servants have said this week that they accept a wider role may well exist for using potentially cleaner forms of gas heat in the building stock. This would apply to alternative technologies and appliances that can make use of gas such as hydrogen or biomethane.

However, recent statements from government that have created doubt over whtehr gas heating in its current form can ever have a role in new buildings have led to questions about whether such a dramatic switch to electric can be viable and effective.

A changing landscape

Katy Read, policy lead on the energy performance of buildings for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said that the recent pledge in the chancellor’s Spring Statement to create a new standard for new build homes was intended to serve as a clear milestone for change.

She said, “By 2025, there needs to be clean heating in new buildings, so no gas by then.”

“The next steps on that are to include details on how this will be implemented in an upcoming consultation on Part L of Building Regulations.”

Ms Read was speaking during an annual lunch held by the Heating and Hotwater Industry council (HHIC) that discussed future standards for how lower carbon heat can be realised and measures.

The Treasury has previously told H&V News that a commitment to switch entirely from gas in new build homes, which was touted in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring statement earlier this month, will apply at least in terms of blocking existing gas appliances within six years. The pledge will still be subject to scrutiny and feedback from boiler manufacturers and wider industry, but does reflect current government views on how new homes will be decarbonised through building services functions.

H&V News understands that interest in transforming the gas grid at a government level will be supported by an economic commitment to introduce new types of gas heating appliances to the market as one of several approaches to try and realise lower carbon buildings.

Ms Read said the upcoming ‘Future Homes Standard’ was one of several approaches to realise the government’s 2050 low carbon targets in its Clean Growth Strategy.

She said that these targets required the country to “pretty much decarbonise all the heat” in the country’s building stocks, most drastically at present in the realm of new build properties.

Ms Read said that this commitment did not preclude ambitions for non-domestic heating and older properties.

She added that a range of alternatives were currently being looked at by a specially commissioned team with BEIS to try and realise the UK’s 2050 plan.

Widespread electrification, which would see heat pumps installed in as many buildings as possible, and considerations of how hydrogen, biomethane or a combination of such gasses cab be used in the grid, were among options being focused on by government.

“So we are certainly going on the basis that it is not one of these options entirely, there might be a mix [of approaches] depending on the area of their use. So there is a lot of work going into that.”

Next steps

A heat policy roadmap scheduled to be released next summer has also been pledged by government to set out the next steps that may provide clarity on how heating systems are expected to change.

Government said one of its initial headline goals for moving to a lower carbon economy was to halve energy use in new buildings by 2030.

A call for evidence will also be issued to get a wider view on how government commitments can best support a lower carbon building stock across the UK. Ms Read said this would look not only at homes, but also the methods of construction used in buildings to meet environmental targets.

An additional number of consultations are then expected to be launched later this year following the ‘Future Framework for Heat in Buildings’ call for evidence during. These will look specifically at phasing out use of high carbon fossil fuels in off-grid buildings, she added.

Ms Read said another key consultation would look at the skills and training requirements needed to support greener buildings.

She added, “We’re very aware that to deliver these high ambitions we need to make sure the skills are in place and are there to deliver this big transition.”

No one panacea

Also speaking during the HHIC event was Dr Elaine Lancaster, chair of the organisation’s Boiler Manufacturers Group, who noted the growing importance of decarbonisation efforts on industry and wider political recognition that no single one size fits all approach to heat could transform heating.

She said, “There is no one panacea. We have to ensure that a balanced and sensible approach is followed.”

With questions over how lower carbon heat can be viably delivered at a UK-wide level, Dr Lancaster said that 2019 would see hydrogen and greener gas gain significant prominence in ongoing debates on housing policy.

“Both, in their way, are future potential solutions to meet our energy challenge. Hybrid heat pumps have also been afforded their own mention as a practical solution that can balance our need for decarbonisation within the existing installer skills and built environment.”

“Flue gas heat recovery is now well established as a technology that can work in conjunction with other measures and can achieve low carbon targets.”

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