People are starting to confront the painful choices that Net Zero involves

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

Why are we expected to abandon gas boilers, when the expensive alternative will not reduce emissions?

This article for the Telegraph by Charles Moore dated 9th July 2021 is asking the same questions as many of us:

Rationality in human affairs is hard to come by, but we love it when we find it. When it comes to spending money, a well-functioning market is the best provider of rationality. Competitive prices send out comprehensible signals about value. On that basis, we can try to make rational decisions.

Rationality in spending matters most over things which we feel we need and know must last for a long time, such as a house or a car. In a fairly cold country like Britain, our houses must have reliable space and water heating. You must get its cost and its efficiency right.

In the brief space between the defeat of militant trade unions and ensuing privatisations of the late 20th century and the green zealotry of the 21st, we had a rational energy market. We could choose between quite a wide range of energy sources and providers. Our energy was getting greener with the rise of natural gas, backed by nuclear, and the decline of coal. Prices were not severely distorted by subsidy or tax.

That began to change under Tony Blair and has changed yet more under both parties since. Now we are committed to Net Zero carbon dioxide by 2050.

Today, the Government subsidises renewables by sticking an estimated £12  billion per year on the national electricity bill. Prices for domestic customers today are about 40 per cent higher than they would be without climate policies. You can tell the Government now senses trouble coming: yesterday it floated the idea that poorer families should be paid offsets against higher energy bills caused by the drive to cut carbon emissions.

Can we consumers make rational choices in this situation? Roughly 23 million homes (85 per cent of the total) are heated by natural gas, which is by no means dirty and is efficient and quite cheap. But the Net Zero doctrine’s quest for carbon neutrality frowns on gas. It sees salvation in heat pumps and hydrogen boilers and wishes to skew rules and prices accordingly.

In common with millions whose gas boilers will soon need changing, I find myself in a quandary. If the Government were not interfering, new gas boilers would be the simplest replacement for the old and would probably provide the cheapest energy for the next 20 years or more.

But the Government is interfering. So householders trying to make long-term decisions about their heating face radical uncertainty. If we get gas boilers, how long will we be allowed to keep them? (Until 2035 is the latest rumour.) Will the gas we buy have a carbon tax slapped on it? Will we be paid by the Government to switch to heat pumps or hydrogen? Since the real costs are opaque, how can our future liabilities be clear?

Unlike gas boilers, heat pumps do not work terribly well. Both air-source and ground-source pumps suffer from the grave difficulty that they are least reliable and effective when the weather is at its coldest. If you get a heat pump, therefore, your water will probably not be warm enough for a bath – and sometimes you will be freezing – without an auxiliary supply of heating. That could be energy-gobbling bar fires, or it could be hydrogen boilers, but the latter are not ready yet.

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People are starting to confront the painful choices that Net Zero involves
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