Low hanging fruit isn’t always good to pick, just ask Adam and Eve.

28th Jan 2019

 

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard energy “experts” glibly speak of low hanging fruit regarding decarbonisation of heat. They claim the off-gas grid sector should be easy to decarbonise; simply switch from oil/coal/LPG to electric and the job’s done. But this “low hanging fruit” comes with huge risk – just ask Adam and Eve.

Yes heating a home with coal is dirtier than natural gas; the same is true for oil. You can’t argue against the science. But their next step, switching to electric, is more problematic than the so-called experts would have you believe.

I don’t need to rehearse the arguments about up-front costs of upgrading the property; installing new heating systems; reinforcing the grid – they are well known and accepted by all but those with the most extreme views. I want to explore another aspect that needs airing. We need a national conversation about who is going to pay.

Here’s why.

At some point, the experts argue, consumers will be stopped from using oil or LPG to heat their off grid homes. So what happens then? Consumers are forced to buy new heating appliances, systems and massively insulate their homes. At an estimated £12,000 a property who pays?

This low hanging fruit might be assumed to be able to afford to do this. (Off grid fuel poverty figures suggest otherwise) But should they? For those on the grid, conversion to low carbon gases is likely to have costs socialised and spread over a long time frame – 25 or 40 years. But those off the gas grid don’t have that luxury. Should they be forced to pay up front whilst the 85% on the grid have costs spread? If taxpayers are asked to subsidise on grid conversion, shouldn’t that also be the case for those off the grid?

These are big questions of fairness that few people really consider. But I suspect Ministers get it. That’s why they are moving slowly on this. Who can blame them? Low regrets, low cost options such as low carbon gas and bio-oils are the correct ones for everyone. If this displeases these so-called “experts” then so be it. Sometimes the low hanging fruit has a big price label on it, and £300 billion plus is a hefty bill.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE