In May 2021, the UK Government announced legislation to ban the installation of gas boilers in homes. The Government introduced this legislation following the International Energy Agency (IEA) report which stated that if the world is to meet its net-zero by 2050 targets, no new gas boilers must be installed from 2025 onwards.
In this article, we unpack the thinking behind this decision, look at how the policy will be implemented. We also take a look at what this means for regular homeowners in the future.
Central heating and Hot Water from your Gas Boiler
A gas boiler is a form of heating that uses natural gas to provide on-demand hot water or central heating. Although gas boilers are more expensive to install than electric boilers, they have been cheaper to run. Gas boilers systems can be installed as a 'closed' system or an 'open' system.
A closed system uses piped gas from the gas main to heat water. An open system uses bottled gas. With an open system, the gas is stored in a gas bottle (typically outside the property or in the kitchen).
Here is more information about the different types of gas boilers:
Problems with fossil fuel boilers
Home heating with gas or oil is currently a major source of carbon emissions in many countries, responsible for around 20% of CO2 in the US and the UK.
Although the efficiency of gas boilers has increased in recent times, at the end of the day, is it still the burning of a fossil fuel. This process outputs carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The decentralized nature of these boilers (i.e., one in every home), common in the United Kingdom, makes things like large-scale carbon capture practically impossible.
The housing stock in the UK is very old, and therefore many houses have gas boilers. The age of the housing stock will make the energy transformation task even more difficult. See the section before for more information about that transition.
Gas boiler ban
The UK was one of the first countries to instigate a Gas Boiler ban. The announcement was made shortly after the publication of the International Energy Agency's Net Zero by 2050 publication. The report issued by the UK Government stated: "To achieve net-zero emissions, we will have to transition completely away from traditional natural gas boilers for heating homes on the gas grid".
The report continues, "there are currently around 1.7 million fossil fuel boilers installations every year but by the mid-2030s we expect all newly installed heating systems to be low-carbon or to be appliances that we are confident can be converted to a clean fuel supply".
The new forms of energy quoted in the report are "electric heat pumps and hydrogen, green gas and shared heat networks."
Low-carbon alternatives to traditional boilers (for our climate)
Although gas boilers are relatively low-cost to install and maintain, they are not a long-term solution. There is no getting away from the fact 14% of UK greenhouse gases are emitted during the process of heating our homes, and in the middle of a climate crisis, we must take action.
Low-carbon heat pumps & underfloor heating
Heat pumps are a great alternative to a regular boiler. It works by digging a borehole in your garden, sometimes up to 100m deep, and pumping a fluid deep into this pipe, allowing the water to warm. This heat is then used to heat your home, typically through underfloor heating. You can find out much more about ground source heat pumps in our article on the topic.
A hydrogen boiler is a system that uses hydrogen to heat water. Hydrogen-ready boilers can be installed today that accept either natural gas or 100% hydrogen as their source. This gives homeowners peace of mind that a new boiler they buy won't need to be replaced in a few years when the supply in the UK switches over. Climate advisors have warned that, at least in the short-term, we only have a supply of hydrogen enough to heat 11% of UK homes.
District heating (shared heat networks)
District heating is a way to heat buildings and homes by delivering heat to them from a central source, such as a power plant or a group of boilers. District heating is a prevalent and efficient heating system in cities where it can be challenging to install and maintain individual pipes into each building. District heating systems also save energy by distributing heat at a temperature lower than the ambient outdoor temperatures.
Top 5 countries with the highest percentage of citizens served by district heating (as of 2015, source: Eurostat) :
- Iceland (92%)
- Latvia (65%)
- Denmark (63%)
- Estonia (62%)
- Lithuania (57%)
A biomass boiler can be more cost-effective than a traditional gas or oil boiler, especially if you live in a rural area, have limited access to gas supplies, and want to reduce your carbon footprint. A biomass boiler is a type of boiler that burns wood biomass fuel, such as wood chips, pellets, and logs. Biomass boilers are often used in conjunction with solar thermal collectors, as they can store energy from the sun during the day for use at night.
New build homes and the Great Energy Retrofit
Replacing gas boilers from new-build homes will be relatively straightforward. It will be the retrofit of nearly 30 million UK homes where the real challenges will lie.
There isn't a single easy answer for making millions of homes energy-efficient. Still, there are plenty of options for homeowners who want to cut their electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions. One of the best strategies is to do an energy audit, which will help you understand how much your heating and cooling systems are costing you and where you can make improvements.
Furthermore, keep your eyes on the UK Government website as policy updates are changed rapidly in this field. Also, look at the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme for help in funding your green energy projects.