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Sunak’s Government Misses Another Key Environmental Target

A National Audit Office report shows government pledges to decarbonise domestic heating has failed to meet half its target

Drax power station. Photo: orlando britain/Alamy Stock

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A damning indictment of the slow progress being made by the Government to decarbonise the heating of millions of homes by installing heat pumps or upgrading boilers is revealed in a report by the National Audit Office today.

It discloses that only 18,900 heat pumps were installed at the end of 2023 less than half the Government’s target of 50,000 and it will require an eleven-fold increase to 600,000 new pumps every year to catch up with the proposed target for 2028.

The Government is committed to phasing out gas boilers by 2035 as part of its net zero target when it is expected that 1.6 million new heat pumps will be installed every year.

 The NAO describes the Government’s targets as “optimistic” and points out that a failure to implement other related policies is adding to the delay.

The biggest is not to decide whether hydrogen can be used to fuel boilers which will not be made until 2026. Trials using hydrogen have been cancelled by ministers so it is not clear why a decision needs to be further delayed.

 It has also led manufacturers to delay making any hydrogen-fueled boilers because they do not know what the Government policy will be. If hydrogen is introduced in some parts of the country it would mean parts of the natural gas network will have to be decommissioned – and the NAO could not find out what would happen to homes now supplied by natural gas which had not switched to heat pumps or hydrogen.

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Dame Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee said:”Decarbonising home heating will require almost every household to decide how to heat their home in the future. However, 30% of respondents to a Government survey in summer 2023 had never heard about this and uptake of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme has been lower than the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero (DESNZ) expected.”

Rishu Sunak did decide last September to try and boost the sale of heat pumps by increasing a non-means tested grant from £5000 to £7,500 to buy them. The announcement was made to counteract his decision to delay by five years until 2035 the target for all new cars to be electric ones.

The grant does not cover the full cost of buying a heat pump which is over £11,000. People who buy them will also face higher electricity bills because of the cost of running them. The ministry claims that the PM’s action led to a 40 per cent increase in applications to buy them but the NAO says no data exists to say how many of the applications has led to the heat pumps being installed.

The NAO says a survey found that 30 per cent of people either didn’t know heat pumps existed or how they could be installed. The ministry says it is running a public information campaign now to tell them about it.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO said:

“Government needs to engage every household to achieve its objective to decarbonise home heating as part of the transition to net zero. DESNZ’s progress in making households aware and encouraging them to switch to low-carbon alternatives has been slower than expected.”

“DESNZ must draw on its experience to date to ensure its mix of incentives, engagement and regulations addresses the barriers to progress in its current programme of work.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “By helping rather than forcing families to install heat pumps, with a 50% bigger heat pump grant, we have boosted applications by nearly 40%.

“Almost half of homes in England now have an Energy Performance Certificate of C or above, up from just 14% in 2010. We are investing billions in home upgrades including insulating around 700,000 properties.

“Our Welcome Home to Energy Efficiency campaign is running on tv, radio and newspapers, reaching 16.6 million households with advice and information about how heat pumps, insulation and solar panels can cut their emissions and energy bills.”

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