Government reluctance to reduce energy usage likely to harm heat pump rollout

Dr. Marie Claire Brisbois, Senior Lecturer in Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex Business School, spoke to Building Products about the government’s reluctance to reduce energy use and the impact it has on the heat pump industry. Today, many industry experts have criticized plans to subsidize low-carbon heat pumps instead of gas boilers for British homeowners in England and Wales. Millions of households will be offered grants of up to £ 5,000 starting April next year to help them transition. According to reports, the subsidies are only expected to fund 90,000 heat pumps by 2024.

Supporting heat pump uptake seems like a simple fix to our net zero goals. With heat pumps, we are switching from environmentally harmful gas boilers to heating (and cooling) sources powered by green electricity.

However, switching to heat pumps is only part of the puzzle. In many cases an energetic renovation of the house is necessary before a heat pump can even be installed. Retrofits make houses warmer and ensure that much less heat is required to feel comfortable.

Support for retrofits means that the government is helping the population to use less energy overall. However, this means that the energy suppliers are selling significantly less energy. This is problematic for providers as their business models demand ever higher profits. More energy efficient homes mean less energy is sold and profits go down. If suppliers cannot find creative ways to change their business models, they have every reason to reject incentives for energy efficiency measures or at least not to support them.

In general, this government is very supportive of measures to increase growth in new areas (e.g. heat pumps). However, they are much more reluctant to adopt measures that will significantly reduce the overall profitability of energy companies.

While energy renovation will create tens of thousands of jobs in the craft sector, the net result of energy efficiency will lead to an overall decrease in energy consumption – and that’s bad news for energy companies and likely for the country’s macroeconomic growth numbers.

Unfortunately, experts around the world agree that without a huge reduction in energy consumption, we have no hope of even reaching a 2oC goal. This inevitably requires support in the energetic renovation of residential buildings, regardless of how it appears in the economic balance sheets.

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