Claire Perry has said she “can’t set a date” for when the government will be ready to start making big strategic decisions on the future of heat.
However, responding to questions at an event in London, the energy and clean growth minster also promised to provide more guidance on the government’s intentions in a new roadmap for heat decarbonisation due be published in early 2020.
“We will pull all of this together into this roadmap,” she told the audience. “I know sometimes people think that’s an exercise in paper pushing. It’s actually an incredibly helpful way of setting out the priorities.” She said the clean growth strategy has been “enormously valuable” in this regard.
Perry said the government still wants to keep its options open at this stage and that is continuing to take “no regrets” decisions in the meantime. She highlighted the chancellor’s pledge in his spring budget statement to increase injections of green gases into the grid and introduce a ban on fossil-fuel heating in new homes from 2025.
She said the publication of the clean growth strategy and the bid to host the COP26 climate change summit demonstrate the government’s embrace of the decarbonisation agenda, which is now completely ingrained in British politics: “If there were, god forbid, a general election I would be amazed if things would change horribly. I would be amazed at any government ever rowing back from these commitments.
“Why? Because they make sense from a carbon view, they make huge sense economically and the realisation that we can have a global position of leadership based on our low-carbon activity to date, which you’ll know is world leading”.
During an earlier speech, Perry set out ministers’ three guiding principles for the decarbonisation of heat: to take a whole-system approach; develop a low-carbon offer that works for consumers; and deploy a mix of solutions determined on a local basis.
“If we can keep these priorities at the heart of our policy-making I think we will make enormous progress,” she remarked.
Perry said the newly-created energy data taskforce led by Laura Sandys will enable the policy-makers to “sharpen up our analysis” and examine data flows such as those arising from the digitalisation of demand.
She emphasised the importance of starting a public debate and educating consumers about the different options for decarbonisation; it is already difficult for them to make informed decisions over home improvements such as roof insulation or more efficient boilers and these choices will be “amplified” with the proliferation of low-carbon heating systems such as heat pumps.
The minister said policies will need to target consumers at the moments in life when they make major decisions about heating – mainly when they are moving into a new house. Although there are plenty of “good ideas” being floated for how to do this – including stamp duty changes and a revival of the Green Deal scheme – it will nevertheless be an “immense challenge”. She said there is a “huge furrow to plough” around green mortgages.
At the same time, Perry said she believed consumers would ultimately come to accept low-carbon heating technologies once they have seen the benefits, recounting how in the 1970s relatively few people had the central heating systems that are now considered normal. She said this mass adoption of a new type of heating came about despite the “enormous disruption caused by its installation”.
She conceded that “we are not doing a great job on some of this”, noting that less than one in ten people are familiar with renewable heating technologies according to the latest survey of public attitudes.
Perry said the government has commissioned research into how best to engage with consumers on heat and this work will help inform its roadmap. She urged the room at the event hosted by the Energy Systems Catapult to go “further and faster” in gathering the evidence ministers will need to make the right decisions.
Her comments come after Ofgem chief executive Dermot Nolan admitted earlier this week he is “far more nervous” about the decarbonisation of heat than of power or transport. He worried that there may be a backlash from consumers if they are forced to adopt new technologies such as hydrogen gas boilers.