The UK faces losing out on £65m of annual exports for central heating boilers and parts by 2030 if the sector doesn’t switch to clean solutions such as heat pumps, energy analysts have said.
According to new analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), this could cost the UK a total of £1.3bn in lost exports between 2030 and 2050.
In January, the government’s net zero review concluded that no new homes should be built with a gas boiler from 2025. It also proposed a 10-year plan to ensure heat pumps become more widespread throughout the UK.
But Michael Gove, who is the secretary of state for levelling up, has expressed doubts that the UK will make the shift over to heat pumps anytime soon due to the ongoing cost of living crisis.
Nevertheless, a previous ECIU analysis found that domestic gas use in the UK would have been significantly lower last winter if it had kept pace with Europe on heat pump installations.
In 2022, the UK exported around £85m worth of central heating boilers and their parts, according to UN trade data. Of the total exports, over three-quarters (77 per cent, £65m) went to countries that have target phase-out dates for fossil fuel boilers set within the next seven years.
In addition, total UK exports of central heating boilers have roughly halved between 2019 and 2022, from around £150m to £85m, possibly related to the world moving away from gas boilers in response to high gas prices, concerns over gas supplies as the war in Ukraine continues, and the need to reduce carbon emissions from home heating.
Around 3 million heat pumps were sold in Europe in 2022 – an increase of 40 per cent from the year before – taking the total sold to over 20 million.
Jess Ralston, ECIU energy analyst, said: “The IMF has said that the UK was worst hit by the gas crisis because we are so dependent on it, and the OBR has shown that we could add 13 per cent GDP to debt if we don’t transition away. The North Sea is a declining basin, no matter what the government policy on it is – unless we reduce our gas demand through insulation and heat pumps, we’re going to end up importing more from abroad.
“The switch to clean heat is continuing at pace outside of the UK as the US and Europe learn their lesson from the gas crisis. It’s starting to look like we haven’t.
“The UK’s existing boiler manufacturers must be able to see the writing on the wall. With clear signals from the government on the future of heating at home, we can take our expertise abroad and get ahead on heat pumps before we lose our place among the leaders of the world’s heating industry.”
The country that imported the most boilers and parts from the UK in 2022 was Ireland (around £50m), which has set a phase-out date for new fossil fuel boilers from 2025. This means that from 2025, when a boiler breaks, it will need to be replaced with a clean heating solution such as an electric heat pump.
A UK government study has shown that heat pumps are highly efficient – typically three times more efficient than gas boilers – in the UK, even down to -6°C.
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