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The boiler ban fiasco and the true cost of net zero-Ross Clark

May 29, 2021

By Paul Homewood



The fightback continues!



Politically it must have seemed an easy promise for Theresa May to make in the dying days of her premiership: to commit Britain to a legally-binding target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050, rather than the 80 per cent reduction previously stipulated in the Climate Change Act. It was the summer of 2019 and Extinction Rebellion protests had taken place with surprisingly little counter-protest. David Attenborough’s TV documentary was received warmly by the press, and polls indicated that the public appeared to supported action on climate change – according to a YouGov poll in December 2018 two thirds of the population stated they did not believe the risks of climate change were being exaggerated. Given that May knew she wasn’t going to be around personally to worry about achieving the new target, perhaps she saw it as an easy chance to secure a legacy.

But it is steadily becoming apparent just how politically costly the net zero commitment could be. When environmental issues are expressed in general terms, people tend to fall on the side of taking action; when the consequences for them personally are explained to them, it tends to be a very different matter. A government threat to ban gas boilers in existing homes by 2035, and to fine homeowners if they failed to meet the deadline, seems to have lasted less than a day. It was reported on Tuesday morning that ministers were considering including such a ban in a new heat and buildings strategy to be published next month – but by the afternoon the government appeared to have backtracked, and said there wouldn’t be any fines.

That would be just as well if the government is to have any hope of hanging on to its new heartlands in former red wall seats – and indeed elsewhere. While much of Britain’s housing stock may be old and energy inefficient, an awful lot of it is owned and lived in by voters who don’t necessarily have the means to spend £10,000 on a new heat pump and another £10,000 on insulating their homes (which is the minimum cost of insulating each of Britain’s eight million homes with solid walls). To hit them with such a bill – even with 14 years’ notice – is not going to go down well.

The bill to insulate homes and decarbonise home heating, of course, will come on top of the extra costs people face if they wish to continue to own a car after 2030 when the sale of new diesel and electric cars will be banned. It isn’t just the cars themselves which are more expensive, there is the practical cost of recharging an electric car when you do not have off-street parking next to your home. In both cases – home energy improvements and electric cars – it should not be hard to spot who will face the biggest expense and difficulty: people who live in solid-walled Victorian terraces which open straight onto the street. The trouble is that this demographic covers a vast number of voters – in northern and Midlands towns especially.

The government’s problem is that it is now legally-committed to a zero carbon policy which cannot be met without vast cost – and even then can only be met with technology which has yet to be invented. Even a well-insulated home with an electric heat pump powered by wind farms and solar panels is not really going to be zero-carbon – not when we have no economic means of producing steel, cement or bricks without emitting carbon.

We have been here once before. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown committed the government to making all new British homes carbon neutral by 2016. The definition of carbon-neutral was first tinkered with (to include developers making payments to fund off-site wind farms) and then abandoned by David Cameron. How long before the target of making Britain net-zero by 2050 has to be dropped, or at least made non legally-binding?

  1. Michael permalink
    May 29, 2021 11:59 am

    “How long before the target of making Britain net-zero by 2050 has to be dropped, or at least made non legally-binding?”

    Very soon – I hope!

  2. Gamecock permalink
    May 29, 2021 12:04 pm

    ‘A government threat to ban gas boilers in existing homes by 2035, and to fine homeowners if they failed to meet the deadline’

    There’s your problem. Government should have no such authority.

    • May 29, 2021 12:44 pm

      Try and keep up. The fining and the banning of existing gas boilers has been dropped

      • David Wild permalink
        May 29, 2021 1:43 pm

        For the moment.
        That was just one route to the golden (and expensive and cold) horizon
        The intention hasn’t gone away

      • Gamecock permalink
        May 29, 2021 5:01 pm

        They retain the authority to do it. Next week, if they wish.

        When a strong, autocratic central government changes its mind, it is still a strong, autocratic central government. Which remains the problem.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        May 29, 2021 8:19 pm

        They can always add a carbon tax to gas to make it more expensive and force you, oops sorry I mean ‘nudge’ you towards compliance. They can always use the gas tax to pay the electricity subsidies so that gets cheaper….but then if people stop using gas that money will dry up….not easy is it coming up with stupid policies?

        And with gas replacing coal the wholesale price will be steadily rising with increased demand.

  3. GeoffB permalink
    May 29, 2021 12:07 pm

    The climate change act has to be repealed, as it is a legal requirement it can be enforced by the courts, as well as the eco loons taking private actions. Which party is going to campaign for that?

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      May 30, 2021 1:12 am

      I’ll vote for them.

  4. David Allan permalink
    May 29, 2021 12:24 pm

    The two “M”s, May and Milliband could well prove to be the most ruinous politicians this country has ever seen. The only way to get these targets removed is for the voters – us – to contact MPs face-to-face and repeatedly to campaign for the abolition of the disastrous Climate Change Act, a piece of virtue-signalling nonsense. I have started this process and you will find, like me, that it is most likely that your MP the will not have a clue about it and will revert to spouting Al Gore style rubbish. Keep at it.

    • Adam Gallon permalink
      May 29, 2021 3:10 pm

      MPs have little clue about anything.

  5. JimW permalink
    May 29, 2021 12:28 pm

    So the heating report is going to be buried next month on ‘freedom day’ from covid restrictions?

  6. Ken Pollock permalink
    May 29, 2021 12:51 pm

    Ross, great piece. Well done, but note a typo – it is petrol cars that are being banned along with diesels, not electric cars…the fact that electric cars are 60+% more expensive, that the batteries are very heavy and need replacing every 6-7 years, plus the extra energy cost of making the cars, all of that is irrelevant. They are the future, we are told – and don’t ask about how you produce the electricity in the first place. Roll on 2030…

    • Sean permalink
      May 30, 2021 2:23 am

      And I have to wonder how long curbside charging installations — which would be required for residences with no off-street parking to charge the mandated EVs — would remain unvandalized; will the cost of installing and maintaining curbside charging be yet another burden dumped on residents, or will the government assume the Sisyphean task of keeping the entire system operational?

  7. Cheshire Red permalink
    May 29, 2021 1:59 pm

    Reading between the lines there’s now a LOT of MSM opposition to NZ from the Right. Telegraph, Mail, Sun, Express and the Speccie (repeatedly). All raising serious questions.

    Boris et al have had a lot on their plate recently; Brexit, a GE and now Covid, but now those things are passing our media are waking up to the truly horrific costs involved.

    Further, there’s the small matter of basing the dearest legislation in UK history on technology that doesn’t even exist! If a 10 year old with learning difficulties pulled that blag he’d be patted on the head and forgiven. For government to do it verges on recklessness in public office.

    Seriously, how can any serious policy be dependent on solutions that haven’t yet been invented? It’s insane.

    • Adam Gallon permalink
      May 29, 2021 3:13 pm

      Brexit isn’t passing, Boris’s Bungled Brexit will be hanging around our necks for years to come. Covid isn’t passing either, it’ll become endemic.

  8. Jordan permalink
    May 29, 2021 5:10 pm

    Some of the practical challenges ahead….
    We own an inner city apartment in an 8 storey block with 24 apartments in total. Each apartment is heated by a gas boiler. There is an underground car park and a subway line runs below the building.
    I don’t believe the building footprint is sufficient for ground source heat pumps, and the subway line tunnel probably rules out any drilling of holes in the area. So ground source could easily be ruled out from the outset.
    I don’t believe noisy and ugly air source heat pumps would be acceptable if they were mounted on the outside walls of the building. It means the only option for heat pumps would be air source, mounted on the building roof. I suspect this would be noisy for the top floor apartments, and it would require a large number of pipes to be installed to link each apartment to its own heat exchanger on the roof. I suspect it would be inefficient to cycle the working fluid between the lower floor apartments and the heat exchanger on the roof of the building (as many as 8 floors).
    Unless there is some magic solution waiting in the wings, I don’t believe it will be practical to replace the existing gas boilers with heat pumps in multi-story apartment buildings. I imagine there will be many tens of thousands of apartments in exactly the same position.
    I mentioned the underground car park, because it also faces significant challenges if fuelled vehicles are banned. The building will need the installation of a private charging network, and that’s not going to be cheap or easy. Our building already have the experience of an owner who had started charging their EV from the building’s common electricity supply. The other owners told them to stop it, because the EV was being charged at the cost of an increase in the common charges, shared by all owners.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      May 29, 2021 11:36 pm

      Good luck with an air sourced heat pump in the UK.
      It’s a cold morning here in the hills outside Adelaide (minus 0.2℃ just before sunrise) and
      I turned on my air conditioner. It ran for 45-50 minutes before stopping.

      Call it a heat pump, and try to pump heat from the cold air into a warmer house (12℃) with outside rep. humidity above 40% and the coils ice up.

  9. Luc Ozade permalink
    May 29, 2021 8:30 pm

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think the whole idea is an impossibility. I (and I’m sure many thousands of other like-minded people) will flatly refuse to allow hordes of workers to walk into our private properties and tear it to pieces – all based on dodgy and manipulated climate (false) science. Every attempted forced entry will need backing up with police/army support. Over my dead body!

    • May 29, 2021 9:39 pm

      Wasn’t the idea just to make selling ‘non-compliant’ properties illegal?

  10. David permalink
    May 29, 2021 9:49 pm

    These problems we are discussing can only ever be solved in practice by a very long term investment plan. If the electricity distribution network was gradually upgraded over many years it could ultimately be possible to heat all homes with resistive heating. This would be cheaper to maintain and efficient but the electricity can only ever be provided by nuclear. For the time being we should build many more nuclear fission power stations, looking ultimately to replace them with nuclear fusion

  11. May 30, 2021 1:22 am

    There is no such thing as a legal commitment by a government to do anything that can be enforced. Government’s can always reverse course or rescind a law or withdraw from a treaty or international commitment. Debts can always be cancelled and foreign assets seized. The only issue is the pain the leading politicians feel, and that can be easily mitigated by appealing to “changed circumstances”.

    China ignores the Paris Accords. That in itself is enough to change climate legislation as one’s large suffering for a global cause is seen as ineffective. The public could be easily convinced that “reasonable ” personal mitigation is good morally while others intransigence dictates the outcome.

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