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COP26 - Can you Afford to go Green?

Nick Geary
By: Nick Geary
Updated: 6th July 2022

Between October 31st and November 12th 2021 the UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. The summit will bring decision-makers from all over the world together so they can accelerate work towards the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

While the world's leaders talk high-level strategy, the spotlight continues to turn on us, the general public, urging us to adopt greener lifestyles as quickly as possible. Of course, the need to reduce our carbon footprint is an urgent one, but is it realistic given the costs involved?

How much does it cost to install renewable heating?

The UK government is under a lot of pressure to confirm how it intends to achieve its target of net zero emissions by 2050, and one of the most important steps will be its Heat and Buildings Strategy. The strategy (which was originally due to be published in July but is now scheduled for September) will set out several decarbonisation plans to help the UK meet its net zero target, and as 14% of the UK's carbon emissions comes from heating our homes, it is expected to have wide-reaching implications for homeowners.

The pledges that are widely expected to be included are:

  • A cut-off date when natural gas boilers will no longer be installed in existing homes.
  • Electricity costs to be slashed to encourage homeowners to switch from fossil fuel boilers to low-carbon heating systems powered by electricity.
  • Clarification on the Clean Heat Grant which will be replacing the Renewable Heat Incentive.
  • Measures to ramp up heat pump installations to 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.
  • A replacement for the Green Homes Grant: the government's flagship green strategy was scrapped in March. 
  • Expansion of hydrogen heating research and trials.

So, when the time comes when you can no longer install a new gas boiler in your home (which tends to cost between £1,500 to £4,000 depending on the type, make and model)? For many people, the answer is likely to be no. 

Switching to a renewable heating system can be a considerable investment with prices ranging from £3,000 to £21,000 depending on the technology.

Type of heating system Average cost of installation
Air Source Heat Pump £4,000 - £11,000
Ground Source Heat Pump £8,000 - £12,000
Biomass Boiler (manual) £4,000 - £10,000
Biomass Boiler (automatic) £9,000 - £21,000
Solar Thermal Panels £3,000 - £7,000

However, while upfront installation costs are considerably higher than a traditional boiler installation, it is important to note that many homes will save money on their running and maintenance costs. And, if the government announces a renewable heating grant scheme, upfront costs may become more affordable.

Cost of electric cars vs petrol cars

Petrol and diesel cars are another big contributor to the UK's carbon footprint, with electric vehicles touted as the best choice for the environment. In fact, the government has pledged to ban sales of new petrol, diesel and many hybrid cars by 2035. But how do electric cars compare in terms of cost?

Purchase price

Firstly, it is worth noting that there are Plug-in Car Grants that enable the manufacturer or dealership to deduct up to £2,500 from the price of a new electric vehicle. In addition, the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) provides grant funding of up to 75% towards the cost of installing electric vehicle charge points at domestic properties across the UK.

There's no doubt that electric cars are more expensive than petrol equivalents. This is because the advanced battery packs required for each vehicle add thousands of pounds to the price, and the limited number of interested buyers at present reduces the economies of scale. Even with a government grant of £2,500, they still tend to be a few thousands pounds more expensive than a petrol or diesel equivalent.

Running costs

Here is a comparison between an electric and petrol BMW which are similarly priced in terms of upfront cost. The running cost figures are based on three years of ownership, and covering 12,000 miles annually.

Electric BMW i3  Petrol BMW 318i 
Example purchase price £29,570 £29,600
Fuel 3.7p per mile + home charger £354 14.2p per mile
Tax £0 £445
Loss of value £16,707 £15,066
Insurance £1,089 £824
Servicing + tyres £322 + £243 £528 + £87
Total 67p per mile 74p per mile

So, like renewable heating, an electric vehicle can be cheaper to run than a petrol car, but the upfront cost is likely to be a deterrent. Combine this with the lack of a charging infrastructure in the UK, and demand for electric vehicles is still relatively low. 

However, as we get closer to the ban of petrol and diesel cars, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles are likely to rise which will make prices more competitive and the loss of value over time should reduce.

Cost of organic, sustainably sourced food

We are also being encouraged to take a more ethical approach to the food we eat. Organic and sustainably sourced foods are produced with minimal environmental impact including:

  • Environmental enhancement and protection (and avoidance of future expenses to mitigate pollution)
  • Higher standards for animal welfare
  • Avoidance of health risks to farmers due to inappropriate handling of pesticides (and avoidance of future medical expenses)
  • Rural development by generating additional farm employment and assuring a fair and sufficient income to producers.

These additional measures mean that there is a limited supply of organic food, there is a greater input of labour required, farmers don’t produce enough of a single product to lower the overall cost of handling, processing, and transportation. The result is that organic food prices tend to be higher for their conventional counterparts. In fact, some 2021 studies have found that organic food costs more than double (105% more) the price of a basketful of the same, non-organic food items.

The cost of going green

In its "Sixth Carbon Budget" report published December 2020, the Climate Change Committee estimated the average "in year annual investment cost" of decarbonising the UK economy at £44.5bn. It's an almost unimaginable figure, but looking at the costs involved in going green on an individual basis does not make it seem much more achievable.

Having said that, the alternative to going green will have devastating consequences for the planet we call home, so we can't just dismiss these lifestyle changes as 'too expensive' to consider. 

The UK government must find solutions that enable us to make the changes our planet and its future inhabitants need us to in an affordable way. We can only hope that these solutions will be forthcoming in September's Heat and Buildings Strategy and the COP26.

Nick Geary

About the author

Nick Geary

Nick has a wide range of experience writing about conventional and renewable heating solutions, and is always increasing his knowledge by researching any new heating technologies on the horizon.

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