UK Considers Ban on Gas Boilers to Reach Net Zero Goals

It is part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

gas boiler

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Folks who are in the business of making, selling, or installing gas boilers and other appliances are likely getting a bit nervous these days. No sooner do we hear about a potential ban on gas appliances for new construction in New York State, we then start reading about an even more stringent measure being floated in the United Kingdom. 

While details are yet to be confirmed, Bloomberg Green and other outlets are reporting that Boris Johnson’s government is considering not just a ban for new construction—but also a requirement for those selling or renovating their homes to upgrade to heat pumps or other net-zero compliant technologies. 

If true, this would be a pretty big deal indeed, and would likely result in a fairly radical shift in what technologies were even available to purchase moving forward. Many of us living in the U.S., for example, can probably remember a time when LED and compact fluorescent light bulbs were a niche item in the corner of the lighting section. Yet a mixture of government intervention and strong demand eventually led to a complete overhaul of the market. And while certain political forces try to reignite bulb-related culture wars from time to time, it really does seem like there is no going back. 

Given the Conservatives’ recent promise to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, such a shift cannot come a moment too soon. As industry body Energy UK pointed out, there is an urgent need to start deploying low and no carbon heat technologies within the next few years to have any hope of meeting the government’s commitments: 

“Core research for the Committee on Climate Change and, separately, the Energy Networks Association indicates that regardless of the mix of solutions used in 2050, existing technologies today, including heat pumps, hot water storage, energy efficiency measures, bio-methane and district heating must be deployed at scale in the 2020s.”  

There may be some pushback from some corners of British society, especially if government regulations are not matched by subsidies or incentives to support consumers in making the switch. And yet, as the LED example above shows, this pushback tends to be temporary as newer technologies win out. 

According to electric utility EDF—which has fairly obvious skin in the game—gas is currently used to heat a whopping 78% of households in the U.K., versus just 50% in the U.S., or 43% in Germany. Surely this alone is reason enough for a rapid and widespread effort to cut heating emissions. 

At the time of writing, it’s a little hard to ascertain the exact status of a proposed ban. The policies have apparently been drafted, the government is reviewing, and we’ll see in due course if they are going to be bold and enact an actual ban that moves beyond new construction. But it’s certainly true that the moment we are in demands nothing less. 

The question will then be how to make it affordable and fair for renters and lower-income homeowners who stand the most to benefit from—but are unlikely to have the means to invest in—more efficient heating or better insulation. 

Watch this space.