Sustainable heating

MQT on 2019-03-21
Session date: 
March 21, 2019
Question By: 
Leonie Cooper
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Given the Committee on Climate Change recently recommended no new houses be connected to the gas grid from 2025, and your plans are more ambitious than those on which this recommendation is based, is it time for London to accelerate transition to new heating methods?


Sustainable heating

Sustainable heating

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Thank you, Chairman.  For too long we have relied on fossil fuels like gas to heat our buildings and so I welcome the Committee on Climate Change’s clear position on the need for high‑quality new homes that are not reliant on gas.  We do need to move, though, towards renewable and low‑carbon ways of heating London’s buildings.  To make this happen, we need to transition away from gas boilers, which are worsening climate change and polluting our already toxic air, to zero‑carbon technologies like renewable heat pumps and heat networks supplied by renewable sources.


As Assembly Member Cooper rightly points out, in London we are being more ambitious than the Government in doing this.  In 2015 the Government’s scrapped its zero‑carbon home standard, which would have driven more low‑carbon heat in new homes.  The recent Spring Statement suggests the Government is revisiting this, but its inaction is resulting in a decade of lost action on low‑carbon and renewable heat.  In London, we have been the exception to this.  We kept the zero‑carbon home standard for new buildings when it was scrapped across the rest of the country and we plan to apply it to non‑domestic buildings when the new draft London Plan is adopted this year [2019].  These policies are already helping new buildings in London to transition away from gas boilers to more efficient low‑carbon and renewable heat sources like heat pumps.


Leonie Cooper AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.  As you know, before Christmas [2018] we asked you to declare a climate emergency, which you did.  We are in quite a difficult position now.  We are moving ahead in terms of reducing emissions from vehicles, but household fuels already form 58% of emissions nationally and of course, in terms of London, carbon emissions from buildings now have gone from 42% in 2008 to 47% now because of other emissions coming down, and the same with NO2.  It is an increasing percentage; it has gone from 19% up to 25%.  I just wondered if you were having any success in lobbying the Government to think about investing in national infrastructure and seeing moving away from fossil fuels as an important national infrastructure project.  Is there anything they are thinking about doing to incentivise, so that we can really start to scale up quickly?  We really need to get a wriggle on, as you know. 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  My officials have had good conversations with Government officials.  We have had decent conversations with Government Ministers but there is a lack of action from Government and frankly the Government is in paralysis because of Brexit.  No decisions are being taken and everything is being kicked down the road, which is catastrophic for climate change, catastrophic.  You have seen young Londoners march to make sure our generation gets the message from them and their frustration with the delay from us responding. 


I have to say this, though.  Our powers are limited.  Our resources are limited.  We are doing what we can and according to independent analysis going much further than any previous administration, than other global cities across the world.  I speak regularly to C40 to get ideas that I can pinch and that we can emulate in London, but it is difficult.  Unless the Government steps in with more powers and more resources, we will not be able to make the progress we need to make.  We are in a climate change emergency.  I have seen no evidence that the Government currently gets that. 


Leonie Cooper AM:  It is quite disgraceful, as you say, to see that the House of Commons is empty when there is a debate about climate change and that it is actually school children who are bringing the issue of climate change to the top of the agenda by undertaking school strikes. 


You have done a lot of interesting work with your teams on heat networks, particularly in the larger new developments.  I just wondered if there had been an analysis done of what we can do to fit individual heat pumps because that is an area that we have not really pushed ahead on as much.  Is that an area that officials are looking into? 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  We are looking at the issue of retrofitting heat pumps into homes.  The key thing is the energy efficiency market is not fit for purpose.  We need to restart the stalled market.  There has to be regulatory powers introduced from Government to make it work.  Also, for us to encourage existing heating systems to be replaced with heat pumps, we need to have funding provided for a roll‑out of low carbon and renewable heating systems that go beyond 2021.  As long as the Government is in paralysis, I am afraid we are not going to see the progress we need in this area. 


Leonie Cooper AM:  Obviously we need to scale up in terms of insulation because you cannot really fit heat pumps unless you have very energy‑efficient buildings.  The other issue with heat network properties is that it is quite hard, if you have a heat network, for individual residents to then switch supplier.  Effectively you cannot.  You are on the network. 


Is there anything that is being looked at by your team in terms of residents’ rights and how they can be protected in those circumstances? 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  One of the things we are asking Government to do is to work closely with the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) in relation to this area because regulation is lacking but Ofgem can step in.  The difficulty in switching suppliers is a problem in London with dense areas and the challenges that we have.  We are supporting the better regulation of heat networks so they are properly designed, but also, to make it easier for consumers to switch, we are seeing if Ofgem can do something to step in there. 


Leonie Cooper AM:  Finally, Mr Mayor, you recently published a research report on the impact of NOx pollution from boilers.  How will you be taking forward the outcomes of that research into action to tackle this as we tackled London’s toxic air in general? 


Sadiq Khan (Mayor of London):  Disclosure: it was a small‑scale study.  It was not as comprehensive a study as we would have liked.  It was done because we were concerned about real‑world emissions versus claimed emissions.  We saw the Dieselgate fiasco with cars.  The preliminary response we have is it seems like there are not the same issues with cars as there are with boilers.  Roughly speaking, real‑world emissions are the same as those that are claimed.  One of the things we are talking to the Government about is if they can do further work in this area to make sure we can be reassured by the claims made by companies in relation to the emissions.  That will give us the confidence we lack in relation to cars. 


Leonie Cooper AM:  OK, so something that has been picked up with Government.  Thank you, Chairman.  Thank you, Mr Mayor.