Background to the report

Heating the UK’s 28 million homes accounted for 18% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, the most recent year for which data are available. The main source of these emissions is from burning natural gas to heat homes. Reducing emissions from heating homes is therefore a key component of the government’s overall target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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In October 2021, the government published its Heat and Buildings Strategy. The strategy made a range of commitments aimed at developing markets and consumer choices for heat pumps and heat networks, and stated the government’s ambition to end the installation of new fossil fuel boilers by 2035. It committed to:

  • growing the supply chain for heat pumps to a minimum market capacity of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028
  • developing the evidence base to inform strategic decisions in 2026 on the future role of hydrogen in home heating, and therefore the future heating technology mix

In October 2023, the government clarified that heat pumps and heat networks will be the primary low-carbon technology for decarbonising home heating over the next decade and will play a key role in all pathways to 2050.

Also in October 2023, the National Infrastructure Commission, which advises the government on major long-term infrastructure challenges, recommended that the government should not support hydrogen for home heating. The government maintains that it needs to establish the evidence base before taking decisions on hydrogen, but has also stated that no one should hold back on installing a heat pump or connecting to a heat network on the basis that hydrogen might be an option later.

Scope of the report

This report examines the progress DESNZ has made in decarbonising home heating since the government published its Heat and Buildings Strategy in 2021, including whether it has established a clear pathway to decarbonising home heating in a way that is value for money.

We have also assessed the progress in rolling out heat pumps, which the government expects to be the main low-carbon technology households use to heat their homes. We have made recommendations aimed at supporting DESNZ to maximise value for money as it develops its approach to decarbonising home heating.

The report focuses on the deployment of low-carbon heating and does not consider energy efficiency. The report also does not evaluate the value for money of specific schemes or programmes aimed at decarbonising home heating, such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme.

Video summary


Decarbonising home heating represents one of the biggest challenges to the government achieving net zero, requiring almost all households to engage in the transition.

Aspects of DESNZ’s overall pathway remain unclear, particularly as DESNZ works towards determining the role of hydrogen in home heating. It should not extend this work beyond what is necessary to come to an informed decision, recognising that uncertainty could hamper progress and drive up costs while consumers and businesses wait for further clarity.

DESNZ also needs to get to grips with other longer-term challenges, such as the future of the gas networks and plans for reaching harder-to-decarbonise homes, to ensure it has a clear, enduring plan that maximises the value of public and private investments in the transition.

Despite these uncertainties, it has become increasingly clear since the 2021 Heat and Buildings Strategy that the government’s approach will centre on heat pumps as the main technology. But DESNZ’s progress with encouraging households to install heat pumps has been slower than planned because costs remain high and public awareness remains low.

DESNZ must ensure its mix of incentives, engagement and regulations draws on ongoing experience to address these issues, and support the rollout of heat pumps in a way that minimises the long-term costs to both taxpayers and consumers.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (18 Mar 2024)

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