SPECIAL FEATURE HVAC EFFICIENCY UPGRADES A flawed report published in January argues connecting non-gas heated homes to the existing gas grid could lift nearly 140,000 families a year out of fuel poverty. Chris Stammers, product marketing director for Dimplex, responds. O n the face of it, the figures seem conclusive. In a report published earlier this year, the Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA) claims connecting homes to the existing gas grid can reduce average energy bills by £922 for homes currently using electricity as their principal means of heating. This, it suggests, could help lift nearly 140,000 families a year out of fuel poverty. It is all part of a lobbying campaign to realign the balance for gas which feels disenfranchised after years of government policy in favour of electric heating to help deliver targets and decarbonise heating in the UK. The EUA makes some valid points but, unfortunately, the figures relating to the cost of electric heating are misleading and the savings are unrealistic. Even putting that to one side, this report fails to consider both the characteristics and the benefits of electric heating, a market which continues to deliver cost effective heating for consumers and significant business opportunities for contractors. 38 | May 2017 Economy 7 The first mistake the EUA makes is to compare the cost of a gas boiler to that of electric storage heating using a standard tariff, rather than an Economy 7 tariff. Of course, this results in misleading cost comparisons, because as we all know it is very unlikely that a home using electric storage heating would not be taking advantage of an Economy 7 tariff. As the report says, ‘the use of gas heating costs 4.6p/kWh of delivered heat, compared with 13.86p/kWh of heat for a system using electric storage heaters’. This would be true, of course, were it not for Economy 7, and although it does add ‘the cost of electric heating could be reduced if the homeowner is able to take advantage of an Economy 7 tariff’, the savings have been calculated based on 13.86p/kWh. Storage vs direct acting However, for me, this is not the biggest mistake. What is more concerning is that without the insight required to analyse the electric heating market, the EUA is targeting the wrong people by focusing on storage heating. Figures from the Ofgem December 2015 report on electric and other non-gas heating households tell us that the majority of people that have electric heating and are living in fuel poverty do not use storage heating, they use direct acting electric heating appliances like electric radiators or convector heaters. In fact, only 13 per cent of households with electric storage heating are in fuel poverty – but 10 per cent of households using gas are in the same position. Although proportions are not too dissimilar, in absolute terms the 160,000 households with storage heaters in fuel poverty are shaded by the 2.2million on gas who are fuel poor. Therefore the EUA’s contention that by simply displacing an electric system with a gas boiler and radiators will automatically alleviate fuel poverty is not borne out by the facts. It is true however that a disproportionate number of households (23 per cent) with direct acting electric heating are fuel poor. But this is most often because direct acting appliances have been incorrectly specified and people are left relying on panel heaters and electric radiators for heating around the clock.