Johnson Says U.K. May Need ‘Big Bet’ on Heat Pumps and Hydrogen

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. needs to find a way to lower the cost of electrifying domestic hot water and heating in order to meet its target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Speaking to a panel of lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday, Johnson said heat pumps are still too expensive for homeowners. Around 38,000 of the devices were installed last year, just a fraction of the 600,000 he is aiming for by 2028.

“Let’s be frank, these things cost about 10 grand a pop,” he said. “This is a lot of money for ordinary people.”

Decarbonizing heat in buildings is one of the biggest hurdles for the U.K. in meeting its climate goals. But heat pumps, which use electricity to absorb heat from the air and transfer it into radiators and underfloor heating, typically cost almost three times as much as a gas boiler, and they only work in well-insulated homes.

“There are some big bets that we may need to place,” Johnson said. “Some bets that we may need to place on hydrogen, but also on ground-source and air-source heat pumps.”

The government’s independent adviser, the Climate Change Committee, has said that for the U.K. to reach its target, it will need to ban the sale of all new gas boilers from 2033. But that alone would not be enough to cover costs. Ministers would also need to increase their annual spending on decarbonizing heat to 9 billion pounds ($12.4 billion) a year by 2030, up from the current plan of 6 billion a year, the CCC said.

The U.K. government has repeatedly delayed its heat and buildings strategy, which was due to be published in January. It also scrapped the Green Homes Grant that was supposed to help seal up drafty homes. That strategy is now expected in the coming weeks.

Johnson said his priority is to keep prices low for consumers, and several U.K. utilities are ready to support changes to how households are taxed for their energy use, by shifting green levies from electricity to gas.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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