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Weekly column by EUA's Chief Executive Mike Foster

Tell me what's wrong with this approach". Well, that's my challenge to you all. Let me explain. I'm currently reading the excellent book "Black Box Thinking" by Matthew Syed, where he issues the challenge to policy makers to embrace trial and error; to use failure as a learning tool and the benefits of marginal gains, in a world where the big announcement or silver bullet attracts most attention. (Sorry if I've done a disservice to him with that summary).

So that got me thinking about energy policy and decarbonisation of heat - as it does when you're on a train journey - and how we reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Let me lay out a hypothesis, which is open to be shot down, and see what we learn from it.

  • Half of UK homes still have non-condensing boilers. Switching saves say 10 per cent in GHG emissions, so this is a 5 per cent overall reduction in UK emissions
  • Smart controls on heating systems such as weather compensators, thermostats, room use sensors, smart meters can save say 4 per cent.
  • Blending hydrogen into mains gas, to volumes say of 10 per cent, displaces natural gas and is carbon free if captured at conversion.
  • Injecting green or renewable gases into the grid, replacing natural gas, prudent estimate of say 25 per cent.
  • Improve energy efficiency in homes (new build and retrofitting) could save let's say a modest 10 per cent.

Add that lot up and you get a saving of 54 per cent from where we are today. Add to that the DECC figure of a 20 per cent reduction from 1990 already achieved by 2014 and the UK residential heat sector is getting seriously close to meeting its target, without any "big-bang" or importantly, major expense to consumers or Government.

Now I've used "estimates". I think they are prudent ones too. So now, help me. Are these figures unachievable and if so why? What  would we need to do to overcome the obstacle? Can we realistically, and affordably, be more ambitious? Might this collection of marginal gains be a sensible route to low carbon heating rather than waiting for the "Eureka Moment" to happen?

Best wishes, 

Mike Foster CE

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