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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

Gas creates emissions so how can I stop using it at home?

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

This is a question that comes up a lot. Natural gas is used for heating in most UK homes, as well as cooking in many. So can and should we try and stop using it? Is now the time to go all electric?

For some people - definitely yes.

The fact of the matter is that right now (in 2023), we don't have a commercially viable alternative for the gas boilers currently used to heat most UK homes and businesses. The UK currently plans to introduce a 20% mix of hydrogen to the mains gas supply - however to do so, there needs to be some upgrades to the pipes themselves in some cases and also boilers need to be compatible. You may see them advertised as "Hydrogen blend ready". The longer term aim is to transition to 100% hydrogen - advertised as "Hydrogen ready" - but this isn't likely to happen until mid 2040's at the earliest because every remaining boiler in the country will need to be replaced before this can happen.

So should I just wait for that to happen then?

You could, but you don't have to - and ideally you shouldn't.

Most appliances in the home that traditionally use gas are already readily available in electric, such as fire places, ovens and hobs. Electrified versions of each are readily available for roughly the same price as the gas versions - although some may cost more to run. As I've already mentioned, electricity isn't 100% renewable yet in the UK but I think the key thing to remember is that a decent portion of it is already and it can and should be in the future - hopefully sooner rather than later. So that just leaves your gas boiler...

Heat pumps

Heat pumps provide a viable alternative to gas boilers - using only electricity to generate the heat required for your home and hot water. There are different kinds of heat pumps available including air source, ground source and even sea source. They are very efficient in terms of energy usage (e.g. they generate a good amount of heat from the energy put into them). At a high level - they work by exchanging heat from outside for use in the home - but the key point is they use only electricity thus have no emissions from their use. The only emissions they have are from generating the electricity used to run them - so as the grid de-carbonises, so does your heating.

The other thing to note here is that you can of course further help accelerate the transition to renewables yourself by changing to a renewable energy tariff or investing in wind or solar energy.

So why can't everyone just go out and replace their boilers with heat pumps then?

Well part of the issue is that electricity is currently more expensive than gas per kWh (for reasons which I won't go into). As of now (March 2023), gas costs about 10p per kWh vs electric at 34p per kWh. So although heat pumps are very efficient - they generally (and it varies by type etc) generate about 3kWh of heat per 1kWh of electric put it - and they can sometimes generate less than that when it's very cold in winter (when you need the heat the most). Gas boilers tend to generate just under 1kWh (between 0.70-0.96 kWh) per kWh of gas put in. So as a result, in pure cost terms, they can sometimes cost slightly more to run than a gas boiler. This also doesn't factor in any installation costs and/or modifications required to facilitate the heat pump - such as adding a hot water tank if one isn't in place already or larger radiators. So as a result, a retrofit can often be expensive - but I would still recommend exploring this option if you are replacing your boiler anyway.

Hmm... OK so where do heat pumps work best then?

An obvious answer for this is new builds. For me, there are two key things that need to be drastically improved in new build houses in the UK:

  1. Insulation and airtightness - this is currently suprisingly poor for the average new build and is actually relatively easy to improve to vastly reduce ongoing heating demand. If a house lasts 100 years - surely investing an extra £10K into the insulation and airtightness is worth it when it's built, and will pay back financially in a fraction of that time.

  2. Heat pumps - For a new build, insulated to a good level as outlined above, a heat pump should be the default option.

But it would make new builds more expensive wouldn't it?

Sometimes yes - but that's a poor excuse not to do it. There are a multitude of ways to fund any additional cost of improving insulation, airtightness and installing a heat pump to every new build which would rapidly start to decarbonise the UK housing stock. Some of these don't have to result in the house itself being more expensive to buy - but even if it did, customers may already be willing to pay a small premium for a house which costs less to heat (so saves money on their energy bills straight away) and also doesn't create any carbon emissions (an increasingly important factor for many).

The reason this isn't happening at the moment is unfortunately down to the cost issue but also education/training. Education and training is easily resolved in reality and just needs some of the key stakeholders (UK govt and homebuilders) to get behind it! It really just needs everyone to stop taking such a short term view on cost.

Ok, what should I do then?

Well you've done the hard bit and read this post. Next, assess your options if you need to replace your boiler - or you are renovating/building a new house. A heat pump may be a very viable option - and certainly will become even more so over the coming years. Failing that, focus on reducing your gas usage in the short term and prepare yourself for hydrogen in the long term.....

Oh, one more thing - if you have an older boiler (c.10 years +), it really may be worthwhile looking into replacing it with a more efficient modern boiler if nothing else. Boilers become less efficient with age - so in some cases, you could save 10-30% gas usage by a simple boiler upgrade!

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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