Will extending the gas grid help tackle fuel poverty?

Fuel poverty is a real issue for homes in the UK. Rising energy prices and inefficient buildings mean people are spending a good chunk of their income on fuel bills, and some are struggling to find the money to keep warm.

According to the latest Government statistics, in 2012, the number of households in fuel poverty in England was estimated at around 2.28 million, representing about 10.4% of all English households.
The industry is working hard to address this issue, but what solutions are available? The Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) has called for the Government to extend the gas grid to help tackle fuel poverty, but would this work?
EUA v2The EUA’s view
Extending the grid would give more people access to the cheapest fuel, gas. Those living off-grid have to pay more for their energy, so connecting them to gas would reduce their bills.
Mike Foster, Chief Executive of EUA said: “We accept that tackling fuel poverty is a complex issue, however we believe that extending the gas grid would have a major positive impact on many people lives.
“Currently fifteen per cent of the population, four million households across the UK are not connected to the gas grid and must rely on alternative sources of energy to heat their home.
“According to the Energy Saving Trust a typical three-bedroom house costs on average £975 per year to heat on mains gas, £1575 on heating oil, £2175 on bulk LPG and up to £3271 on electricity charged at a standard rate. They also tend to be older properties with solid walls and in more rural areas which adds to the higher fuel bills.
“We are calling on the Government to extend the gas grid which will make a real difference too many people’s lives.
“We also support energy efficiency measures, a boiler replacement scheme, improving access to government schemes in rural areas, bringing forward the payment of the Winter Fuel Allowance, as well as extending the gas grid. No single policy will solve the fuel poverty. It is through a combination of a range of measures that inroads will be made into tackling the problem. One of which, unarguably, should be extending the grid but it is only one way, there are also others.”
The Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) helps support installers and consumers in off-gas areas, and it doesn’t think extending the grid is the solution.
Its Director General Jeremy Hawksley said:
“We fully support the principles behind the DECC Fuel Poverty consultation which aligns with our own work, in partnership with the Energy Bill Revolution (EBR) and Age UK, to help tackle this critical issue. However, extending the gas grid is not addressing the root cause of this complex issue.
“Latest figures from the Sutherland Tables, a widely recognised comparator of  heating costs, show that oil continues to be the only primary heating fuel to have fallen in price over the past three years (down by 10.1%), providing a stable and increasingly competitive fuel option for off gas grid homes.
“In contrast gas prices have risen by 28.3% over the same period and the price difference between oil and gas has narrowed significantly, with oil now just 5.5% more expensive than gas compared to 51% more expensive in 2011.
“Extending the UK gas grid would be a costly and disruptive move which would fail to tackle the real problem – the poor energy efficiency of many off gas grid homes which have the lowest EPC ratings at F and G. These households need practical, affordable ways to become more energy efficient.
“A simple boiler scrappage scheme would help many more households upgrade their boilers and the Oilsave website (www.oilsave.org.uk) outlines a further number of inexpensive energy efficiency measures these homes can take.”
Worcester-Bosch-GroupThe manufacturer’s view
Worcester, Bosch Group it the UK’s leading manufacturer of heating and hot water technologies, and makes both oil and gas boilers.
Martyn Bridges, Director of Marketing and Technical Support at Worcester believes the suggestion put forward by the EUA is certainly one way to resolve the problem but that there are other, perhaps less expensive options out there.
Martyn said: “The EUA’s proposal is one approach which could be taken with a view to tackling problems experienced by those off-mains gas homes. However, it is my belief that rather than the large expenditure and investment extending the mains supply to the off mains gas areas that would be needed, we could look at a more practical and significantly less expensive solution which would help these homes to make savings.
“Earlier this year the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund gave considerable financial support to those homes which are on mains gas, helping them find more efficient solutions and ultimately reduce their fuel bills. Yet there was no support for those households that were off the mains gas network. This was something of an oversight in my opinion and when questioned, the DECC officials responded that RHI and Green Deal were the mechanisms in place for these types of households. The success, or rather lack of it, of the domestic RHI and the Green deal has been well documented in the national press and TV. Therefore to have this as the only assistance to off mains gas properties was essentially going to leave these householders with effectively nothing.
“Therefore I suggest we introduce a new policy for those homes off-mains gas in which they are eligible for funding to invest in energy efficient enhancements. The homes which would benefit are older properties in rural areas and are calling out for a way to reduce their heating spend. In effect, let’s see a boiler scrappage scheme for off mains gas properties or extend the scope of the Green Deal Home improvement fund to off mains gas when it is supposedly re-introduced in 2015.
“Whilst the EUA’s ideas may not be the only solution, it is encouraging that thought is being given to improving the efficiency of all of the UK housing stock. I hope it will prompt others to reflect on what needs to be done and hopefully we can come up with a suitable solution together.”
Your views:
What do you think? Is extending the gas grid the key to tackling fuel poverty, or would the money be better spent on other initiatives?
Please comment below.