Boris Johnson’s latest Green wheeze is high in visibility (as ever) but low in practicability. Across Europe, in most of North America and throughout the rest of the world where domestic space heating is a necessity gas (in some cases oil) is the established fuel. Whilst for new build homes you can specify a “greener” alternative (at a cost) to retrofit existing homes with a replacement system is likely to be prohibitively expensive as well as very disruptive to the residents.
As well as residential premises tens of thousands of offices, schools, hospitals and commercial premises rely on gas boilers for their heating systems. The practicability of replacing these, as well as the cost, is doubtful.
The change from the principal domestic fuel being coal in a grate to a boiler and radiator (or hot air) system in the 1960s onwards came from technology advances, the easy availability of initially oil and then mainly gas and the huge increase in comfort that central heating gave. Mrs 1970 lived in a much warmer and more comfortable home than she had when she was a child.
None of the alternatives to gas boilers mentioned here match them in their efficiency or value and none can be installed in existing premises without major cost and disruption. A far more logical alternative is to continue to make gas boilers more efficient. There is no reason why new boilers should not be very low emissions indeed – this is an ongoing process.
Changing the energy balance of a nation is a complex task. To switch from petrol cars to electric ones, or from gas boilers to heat pumps or hydrogen fuelled ones, is a very long term goal indeed. The most effective green policy for now is conservation – cars and boilers are far more efficient these days with far lower emissions per unit of useful output. This should continue.
A society that seeks magic and rapid solutions to real or perceived problems is likely to be disappointed. Whilst we are all prepared to pay for personal lifestyle improvements spending our own money in order to make the world a greener place is a minority sport. We are unlikely, except in a few cases, to volunteer to pay for electric cars or replacement heating systems out of the goodness of our hearts. A touch of reality is necessary.