Official documents show the government is considering using taxpayer cash to install gas central heating in between 15,000 and 20,000 low-income homes between 2022 and 2026.
However, the UK is also imminently due to unveil its long-awaited strategy for cutting CO2 emissions from Britain’s homes. It is expected that this strategy will offer grants to help people make the transition to low-carbon home heating.
Jess Ralston, an analyst at the Energy, Climate and Intelligence Unit (ECIU), a UK non-profit, said the plans were “wasteful and baffling” – and risked locking the poorest in society into expensive and unhealthy heating systems.
“While it’s important that vulnerable households are supported in staying warm at home, installing new fossil fuel boilers – which contribute to harmful air pollution in homes – just means that fuel-poor families are locked into dirtier, more expensive and more unhealthy heating systems for longer,” she said.
“It’s wasteful and baffling when it’s clear that a clean heating revolution is just around the corner and gas prices are rocketing.”
Britain’s homes currently account for around a fifth of the country’s total CO2 emissions – and the country’s independent climate advisers say that the UK will need to rapidly switch to low-carbon heating over the next decade if we are to meet the legal target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Dr Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, a clean energy non-profit, said the plans were “incompatible” with the country’s climate goals.
“Reducing carbon emissions from our homes is absolutely critical to meet the climate targets,” he said.
“Rather than subsidising gas boilers we urgently need a policy to support the transition to clean heating.”
A UK government spokesperson said “no apology” would be made for supplying households with gas boilers in the short term.
“While we remain committed to transitioning away from gas boilers over the next 15 years, we make no apology for supporting low-income households in the short term to replace a limited number of the most inefficient gas boilers, thereby cutting energy bills and carbon emissions,” said a spokesperson for the government’s department for business, energy and industrial strategy.
"The majority of the 3.3 million measures installed under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) so far are insulation measures and we expect that to continue in the future.”
The news comes just days after it was revealed that the UK ranks bottom in Europe for sales of home heat pumps, which are low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers.
The analysis of 21 European countries found that the UK came joint last for sales of heat pumps last year, with just 1.3 heat pumps sold per 1,000 households.
Norway, the top-ranking country, sold 42 heat pumps per 1,000 households, according to findings from Greenpeace and the European Heat Pump Association.
Electric heat pumps work by absorbing warmth from an outside source such as air, ground or nearby water before transferring it into the home. They require just a third of the power used by electric heaters and use far less energy than oil and gas heating.