UK government under pressure to bring forward gas boiler ban

The UK government has shown a prominent hand in global plans to achieve net-zero emissions, with an ambitious target of 2050. Recently, there has been a significant focus on gas boilers in a move to decarbonise households.

As further evidence of a move away from fossil fuels, the UK government recently confirmed plans for a raft of new nuclear power stations in the UK. 

What does this mean for gas boilers?  Will they be banned?

The UK government is looking to ban the installation of gas boilers in new homes from 2025 and ban the sale of all new gas boilers by 2035.

The focus of preventing further central heating systems that are reliant on fossil fuels is a sensible, if controversial, one. 

Short-term targets, long-term aspirations

The UK government has introduced some short-term targets and long-term aspirations in a stereotypical political game of cat and mouse. Perhaps the most ambitious short-term target is a 78% reduction in emissions compared to levels from 1990.

The aim is to hit this target by 2035, although this would require massive government and private sector investment, with consumers and businesses likely left to pay the price in the longer term.

So what are the UK government’s aims concerning gas boilers, and are they achievable?

What are the current targets for the replacement of gas boilers?

While this is a highly fluid situation, at this moment in time, the UK government is looking to:

  • Ban the installation of gas boilers in new homes from 2025
  • Ban the sale of new gas boilers from 2035

The switch to more energy-efficient heating systems in new homes is a relatively simple policy to introduce.

There is only one problem; most new-age energy-efficient systems often require a higher upfront investment than their gas counterparts, although there are significant long-term savings. Consequently, this is likely to impact on the cost of new homes.

Banning the sale of gas boilers

In August 2021, a report by the National Housing Federation (NHF) highlighted a significant issue with homes in England. In-depth research suggests that the 25 million homes in England emit the equivalent amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as 28 million cars.

At this moment in time, there are only 27 million cars in England, concluding that home “leakage” is a more significant climate problem than vehicles on the road. This report, along with a raft of others, has placed enormous pressure on the UK government to bring forward a legislative ban on the sale of gas boilers.

Is 2035 an achievable target?

Right now, the UK government is stuck in the middle of a two-way pull. On one hand, we have those wanting to bring the ban forward and, on the other, those looking beyond 2035. Amid rumours and counter rumours, at this moment in time, there have been no official changes, but 2035 is starting to look like an unachievable target.

Those in favour of an earlier ban

The International Energy Agency believe that an outright ban on gas boilers should begin in 2025. Indeed, the UK government’s official advisers have publicly stated a preference from 2033 for an outright ban.

There is also significant pressure from many environmental groups as the government attempts to balance “what the public wants” and achievable targets.  What will replace gas boilers in 2025?

If a ban began in 2025, then a renewable heating system would replace gas boilers in all new build homes.

These alternatives to gas boilers place a greater demand on electricity usage and homeowners would be wise to consider solar panels or wind generation via Ripple.

Those in favour of moving beyond 2035

An outright ban on the sale of gas boilers would mean millions of homes in the UK being forced to switch to more energy-efficient heating systems when replacing existing heating systems.

We know the UK government is offering grants for those looking to upgrade their boiler systems. However, these grants do not cover the total cost, and many homes simply can’t afford the switch away from fossil fuel boilers. 

Then we have the issue of private rental accommodation, with tenants likely to incur higher rents due to significant investment by landlords. An extension of the grant scheme focused on private landlords would likely cause controversy amongst the voting public. Again, many private landlords will be stuck between a rock and a hard place, perhaps forcing a number to reconsider their property investments.

What are the alternatives for the UK government?

As lobbying groups from both sides step up the pressure on politicians, political parties and the UK government, it looks as though the UK is set to “kick the ball down the road”.

Unofficial comments suggest that the outright ban on the sale of gas boilers could be pushed out to 2040. This has dismayed many climate campaigners because ultimately, the UK’s Net Zero target of 2050, already ambitious, would be simply unachievable.

What will replace gas boilers in the UK?

There are three front-runners when it comes to replacing gas boilers in the UK:

  1. Air-source heat pumps;
  2. Ground-source heat pumps;
  3. Biomass boilers.

Each of these can replace a traditional boiler and will have a far lower environmental impact.  Unfortunately, they also come with significant upfront costs.

Heating SystemApprox. installation cost
Gas boiler£2,000
Air source heat pumps £18,000
Ground source heat pumps£20,000
Biomass boilers£10,000
Approximate heating system installation costs

When you look at the cost of heat pumps and biomass boilers and compare them to the relatively low cost of installing a gas boiler, you can understand why the building sector has been slow to move towards these new solutions.

Air source heat pumps

Air source heat pumps are popular in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, but like all technologies, there are pros and cons.

Some pros include:

  • Low carbon footprint
  • Long-term energy cost savings
  • Dual-use, heating and cooling
  • Can be used to heat space and water
  • Easy installation
  • Long lifespan

Some drawbacks of air source heat pumps include:

  • Additional expenditure on underfloor heating
  • Homes must already be well insulated
  • Efficiency is reduced below 0°C
  • Can be relatively noisy
  • High installation costs

The cost of installing an air source heat pump system can be anything up to £18,000, which is a significant upfront investment, even if there are long-term energy efficiency gains.  

Ground source heat pumps

While many experts have put forward ground source heat pumps as a viable alternative to gas boilers, they are perhaps best suited to new build homes. This is because they often require significant space, which would need to be included in the property’s overall design. As you would expect, there are several pros and cons to consider.

Pros for ground source heat pumps:-

  • Highly energy efficient
  • Low carbon heating
  • Extremely low running costs
  • Can provide heating and cooling
  • Virtually silent
  • Consistent performance in varied temperatures

Some drawbacks of ground source heat pumps include:-

  • Relatively high installation cost
  • Retrofits can be complex if not impossible
  • Efficiency is heavily impacted by soil type
  • Not all landscapes are suitable for ground source heat pumps

While the cost of installing a ground source heat pump will vary, for the larger machines, it can be up to £20,000. However, it is financially attractive when this is set against long-term energy cost savings.

Biomass boilers

In recent years, we have seen considerable improvements in biomass boiler technology to the extent that they are a viable alternative to gas-powered boilers. 

Some of the more prominent pros of biomass boilers include:

  • The use of renewable energy sources such as wood and plant-based fuel is a huge plus point
  • Deemed carbon-neutral, carbon emissions from the machines are the same as that absorbed by trees and plants used as fuel sources
  • Useful way to dispose of waste wood
  • Stable fuel prices give greater long-term visibility

The main drawbacks concerning biomass boilers include:

  • As these are relatively large units that also require a storage area, they will take up more space
  • Initial upfront investment can be significant
  • These boilers are more efficient with dry fuel
  • Machinery will require regular cleaning

The cost of buying and installing a biomass boiler can vary significantly; you could pay approaching £10,000. This needs to be balanced against the significant long-term benefits.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

At this point in time, the UK government is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ambitious targets are now being watered down after being noted as an early front-runner in the global race to Net Zero.

While the ban on installing gas boilers in new homes from 2025 is achievable, the outright ban from 2035 seems more challenging.

Considering that UK homes create more emissions than vehicles on the road, this is a significant problem that needs addressing. 

Is the UK getting rid of gas boilers?  Yes, the UK Government is taking steps to stop newly built properties from having gas boilers and is encouraging existing home owners to replace gas and oil boilers with more environmentally friendly options.

Introducing a three-year grant to help those upgrading their boiler system to more environmentally efficient products is helpful. However, most of the investment burden will fall on businesses, homeowners and landlords – do they really have the appetite?


Sources

https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/gas-boiler-ban

https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/heat-and-buildings-strategy

https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2016/01/pros-and-cons-of-ground-source-heat-pumps

https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2015/10/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-biomass-boilers

https://www.housing.org.uk/news-and-blogs/news/englands-leaky-homes-greater-threat-to-climate-than-cars/

Written by Julie Hanson

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