As the UK begins to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, government must not waste the opportunity to ensure future heat policy is greener and fairer, says OFTEC.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the UK economy hard, and in response OFTEC warns that unless measures to cut carbon emissions from home heating are made affordable for many more households, climate change targets will not be met.

While OFTEC recognises that the government's proposed 'Clean Heat Grants' could help overcome current cost barriers for heat pumps for some, the trade association says progress on decarbonising homes is likely to continue to falter unless government takes more decisive steps to encourage a competitive market for low carbon heating technologies. Driving down end costs for consumers is critical to achieving high take-up and ensuring the transition to low carbon heating is fair and available to all.

OFTEC Chief Executive Paul Rose explained: “Even before the coronavirus hit, many rural, off-gas grid households fell into the low to middle income bracket and suffered deeper levels of fuel poverty.

“UK figures show almost 70% of these households have less than £1,500 in savings, while over 55% have no savings at all. Many more are in debt so even with a £4,000 grant, most would have major difficulty finding over £6,000 to part fund an average air source heat pump installation.

“The pandemic is also draining Treasury reserves, so funding needs to be focused on maximising take-up. Rather than continuing to subsidise expensive technologies, it makes more sense for government to set legally binding carbon intensity targets that all new and replacement heating installations must achieve. These would get stricter over time, in line with the government’s net-zero target.

“This approach would promote innovation and competition, opening the door to other, potentially more affordable low carbon heating solutions which are already in development.”

Renewable liquid fuels are just one of the low-cost options which so far have been excluded from government support. OFTEC says extensive independent research shows these fuels offer the most cost-effective way to decarbonise heat from oil using homes. A 30% blend of biofuel and kerosene could be in use by 2027 and a 100% fossil-free fuel by 2035 – 15 years ahead of the UK’s net-zero ambition. The association adds that it is even possible that these timescales could be accelerated significantly with the right regulatory approach.

Paul concluded: “With key decisions on heat policy looming, it’s vital that government balances the need to take action with a pragmatic assessment of the new post-COVID 19 reality. 

“Now, more than ever, consumers need affordable, simple to implement solutions. Poor choices at this stage could lead to further stalling of the decarbonisation process and the unfair discrimination of many rural households who are already struggling to affordably heat their homes.”