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NAO reports UK’s slow progress in decarbonising home heating

The National Audit Office (NAO) has today stressed the slow progress in the UK’s endeavour to decarbonise home heating.

Given that home heating accounted for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, reducing emissions from this sector remains pivotal in the government’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2050.

The latest report from the NAO indicates that this slow progress presents a substantial obstacle to the government’s aspirations.

Despite intentions outlined in the 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy, which places heat pumps as the primary technology, the government’s efforts to promote household heat pump adoption have faltered due to persistently high costs and limited public awareness, the NAO suggests.

The government aims to achieve a substantial increase in heat pump installations, targeting 600,000 units annually by 2028 – a significant leap from the 55,000 units sold in 2024.

By 2035, the government envisions up to 1.6 million heat pumps being installed each year.

However, the independent public spending watchdog raises concerns about the government’s optimistic assumptions regarding consumer demand and manufacturer supply.

Additionally, the government’s flagship Boiler Upgrade Scheme has fallen short of expectations, managing only 18,900 heat pump installations between May 2022 and December 2023, well below the anticipated 50,000 installations by that point.

This critical transition demands the engagement of almost all households, yet aspects of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) overall pathway remain ambiguous, particularly concerning the role of hydrogen in heating, according to the report.

The NAO says it is imperative that DESNZ strikes a balance between informed decision-making and avoiding prolonged uncertainty, as prolonged delays could hinder progress and escalate costs for consumers and businesses.

Additionally, the government must address longer term challenges such as the future of gas networks and reaching harder-to-decarbonise homes to ensure a clear and enduring plan that optimises investments in the transition.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said: “Government needs to engage every household to achieve its objective to decarbonise home heating as part of the transition to net zero.

“DESNZ’s progress in making households aware and encouraging them to switch to low carbon alternatives has been slower than expected.

“DESNZ must draw on its experience to date to ensure its mix of incentives, engagement and regulations addresses the barriers to progress in its current programme of work.”

A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson told Energy Live News: “By helping rather than forcing families to install heat pumps, with a 50% bigger heat pump grant, we have boosted applications by nearly 40%.

“Almost half of homes in England now have an Energy Performance Certificate of C or above, up from just 14% in 2010. We are investing billions in home upgrades including insulating around 700,000 properties.

“Our Welcome Home to Energy Efficiency campaign is running on tv, radio and newspapers, reaching 16.6 million households with advice and information about how heat pumps, insulation and solar panels can cut their emissions and energy bills.”

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