Leaked documents show gas boiler lobby's attempt to delay heat pump rollout

An air source heat pump being installed
According to a leaked document obtained by DeSmog the Energy and Utilities Association has been lobbying the government to delay heat pump installations to favour gas boiler business's (Image credit: Getty)

An energy trade association representing gas boilers and manufacturers has been responsible for spreading negative press about heat pumps, according to DeSmog. 

The journalistic and activist website claims the Energy and Utilities Association (EUA) hired a public affairs firm to create numerous articles and interviews over the last two years to lobby the government to postpone the adoption of air source heat pumps.

There are also allegations that boiler companies have been promoting hydrogen heating to the government as an alternative to heat pump technology as it is believed this will have less of a negative impact on their business.

Company aimed to delay launch

The gas boiler industry is trying to delay new government rules that would encourage the use of heat pumps instead of gas boilers, DeSmog claims.

In a leaked document DeSmog claim to have gathered it is alleged the EUA, which represents boiler manufacturers and gas companies, has been lobbying the government for two years to delay the requirement to install more heat pumps until 2026.

The government's proposed plan, called the Clean Heat Market Mechanism, aims to make boiler manufacturers sell more heat pumps starting in 2024. If they don't meet the targets, they could face fines.

However, the EUA argues that these targets are unrealistic due to the short time frame, the challenges manufacturers would face in meeting the rules, and the high potential cost of the fines, which they estimate could be up to £300 million for the UK industry.

The EUA wrote in a response to the Clean Heat Market Mechanism Consultation: “EUA does not believe that the proposed clean heat market mechanism will achieve its stated aims with the policy as currently designed. The central proposal that boiler manufacturers are able to dictate the products homeowners install in their homes is flawed.”

DeSmog claim the EUA paid a public relations firm, Willoughby Public Relations (WPR), to spread negative propaganda about heat pumps to pressurise the government to slow down heat pump uptake after it analysed hundreds of articles from various media sources.

These articles were featured in unwitting outlets such as The Sun, Telegraph and The Express, and on broadcasts channels such as BBC 2’s Newsnight, LBC, TalkTV and GB News, two-thirds of which can be linked back to WPR, claim DeSmog.

Gas companies lobbying for hydrogen over electric

As well as delaying heat pumps DeSmog also alleges that the EUA has been trying to persuade the government to promote hydrogen for home heating instead of heat pumps.

It is claimed this is because it causes less disruption to gas companies business models as hydrogen elements can be fitted to existing gas boilers rather than removing boilers altogether.

WPR have openly written articles "To help change the direction of government policy on domestic heat and hot water" towards hydrogen heating arguing the "high installation cost and disruption of heat pumps" make hydrogen more suitable.

Former Labour MP named Mike Foster was also named in the report for spreading negative propaganda about heat pumps and encouraging hydrogen heating

Mike Foster, on the other hand, denies any anti-heat pump campaign funded by EUA. He claims that the PR agency they hired only provides media support and that both he and EUA support the right heating solution for each home.

A lawyer representing WPR stated hydrogen was “an entirely viable means of providing an ‘efficient and low-carbon heating alternative’ to gas boilers” and claimed stating WPR was simply “raising the disadvantages of heat pumps, about which scientific and ecological opinion is clearly divided."

However, critics like Sarah Becker from Global Witness argued, “The people who are pushing for hydrogen heating aren’t genuinely interested in tackling climate breakdown – they’re looking for a lifeline for the gas industry” and, “They aren’t just talking up a false climate solution, they’re also working hard to undermine the right ones.”

Hydrogen boiler enters first field trial

It is alleged EUA have paid an agency to spread misinformation regarding heat pumps and encouraged hydrogen as a better alternative (Image credit: Worcester Bosch)

UK heat pump uptake falling behind Europe and world

If true, this lobbying by gas boiler companies could explain why Britain is so far behind the rest of the world in its heat pump uptake.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), reported global sales of heat pumps grew by 11% in 2022, however, according to the European Heat Pump Association, Britain is lagging behind in its heat pump uptake after revealing the UK ranks 20th out of 21 European countries for heat pumps per capita with only 564 heat pumps per 100,000 people.

The government has stated its aim of reaching 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, whereas Ofgem figures show only 42,779 heat pumps were installed in the UK last year.

This is despite the government offering subsidies to reduce cost of heat pump installations through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS), which provides subsidies of £5,000 for air source heat pumps, and £6,000 for ground source heat pumps, the government has only managed to give out a third of the available heat pump grants for this financial year. 

The House of Lords environment and climate change committee this year released a report revealing the UK's "disappointingly low" uptake of low-carbon heating systems claiming factors such as the government's insufficient promotion of the BUS, limited public awareness, and inadequate independent advice.

Joseph Mullane
News Editor

News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals.  Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.