“There’s no silver bullet to decarbonise heat” or is there?

21st Sep 2020


We regularly hear that heat decarbonisation is difficult, costly and that there is no silver bullet. We often say it ourselves, suggesting that a range of technological solutions will be needed in the UK. Then, modest as our industry is, we list all the technologies that might be used in the future as if they were all equal. Our humility makes us feel nice, but is it the best way forward? And are all the mentioned heating technologies equal? I venture they are not and let me explain why.

I’ll start by posing a couple of rhetorical questions. Should an off-grid property be heated using the same technology as on-grid? Should older building stock be decarbonised in the same manner as newly built homes?

If you think the answer to one or both questions is “no”, then you’ve made the shift in thinking that not all heating solutions are equal and therefore shouldn’t be mentioned under the same breath.

So let’s get our favourite Italian economist to help. Using the Pareto 80/20 rule, we should create the gas 85/15 rule, those on the existing gas network and those off. Let’s concentrate our efforts on the 85, that’s what Pareto would do. For existing homes, the vast majority with combi boilers, switching the gas is the most obvious solution to achieving Net Zero.

It deals with space heating and hot water, affordably, and without huge disruption to the consumer. Whilst energy efficiency measures can further improve the condition of homes using gas, it is not an essential element needed to make the technology function as advertised. So it avoids, expensive and economically irrational retrofits which might be needed for some alternatives, or digging up every road and garden for others. So let’s be a bit bolder in our language, for Pareto’s 85 per cent, for those currently on the gas network, there is indeed a silver bullet.

For new build, for the off-grid 15 per cent, then let’s consider the full range of options (and I’ll come back to this in a later blog) but for the majority of our domestic heat emissions, let’s put modesty back in its box, and start being more confident that green gas is indeed our silver bullet.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO