We need to end our relationship with gas

At the start of February, Ofgem, the UK regulator for gas and electricity markets, announced a 54 per cent price cap rise for energy bills in response to soaring wholesale prices – a move that will likely plunge more people into poverty as the cost of living crisis worsens.

In the same week, a Nesta poll revealed as much as 86 per cent of the Scottish public hugely underestimate the carbon emissions generated by our gas boilers, equating it with activities such as driving a car 18 miles per day or eating 40kg of beef per year. In reality, heating a medium-sized home over the course of a year emits 2.2 tonnes of CO2, according to Ofgem data – the equivalent of seven transatlantic flights and significantly more than our average driving habits or meat consumption. You can learn more about how much your gas boiler emits and what you can do about it by using our Carbon Calculator.

Even when the poll participants were shown the truth about the high impact of boiler emissions and the relatively low impact of other activities, most had no plans to change how they heat their homes.

This is hardly surprising because although gas boilers are one of the greatest contributors to carbon emissions from our homes, they are one of the hardest things for people to replace.

With home heating contributing 15 per cent of total carbon emissions in Scotland, if we are to have any hope of reaching our ambitious net zero targets, we need to end our relationship with gas.

As well as being a huge contributor to climate change, gas is also the main reason why we now have an energy price crisis. As well as being much more carbon emitting than most of us realise, gas is non-renewable; as it becomes more scarce, we will see more price rises and political posturing.

Cheap, clean electricity is how we need to start heating our homes. Unlike high carbon activities such as air travel, where low-emission alternatives are some time away, ultra-low emission alternatives to gas boilers already exist – the challenge is getting them installed in our homes at scale and pace.

The main barrier to installing new low carbon heating systems is the cost. They are currently expensive to install and no cheaper to run. Electricity could be much cheaper than gas, but as we have seen, the energy price cap rise also affects electricity. This is because the price of electricity is tied to the price of gas, as gas power plants still play a “backstop” role to fill the gaps left by renewables.

However, Scotland is close to being able to escape this gas price trap – with renewables meeting over 97 per cent of Scotland's electricity demand in 2020. We need to decouple the cost of electricity from the cost of gas so that, as our energy becomes cleaner to produce, it also becomes cheaper for consumers.

We can no longer afford to pay the environmental cost of gas boilers and the running costs of heating our homes this way will reach record highs. But the cost of replacing them is too much for most individual households.

However, if we uncouple electricity prices from fossil fuels then the running costs of low-carbon alternatives such as heat pumps will be considerably lower than gas boilers. Targeted incentives and financial products such as install loans that price the repayments into bills could help drive household transition to green heating without an upfront cost.

The technology exists for us to end our relationship with gas and heat our homes with clean, affordable energy. What’s missing is targeted investment and an actionable strategy from government and the private sector to make the transition a viable, affordable and even attractive proposition to households across the country.

How much your gas boiler costing earth?

Try our carbon calculator to understand how much carbon your gas boiler emits and what you can do to reduce it



Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Kyle Usher

Mission Manager (Scotland) - A Sustainable Future

Kyle was Nesta’s Mission Manager for Scotland working on the sustainable future mission and based with the Scotland team in Edinburgh.

View profile