New Clause 19 - Micro combined heat and power passive flue gas heat recovery devices

Part of Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 21st June 2011.

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Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change 5:45 pm, 21st June 2011

New clauses 19 and 20 concern two technologies that, although in their infancy, have genuine potential to play a large role in driving efficient heating in the future. The technologies—micro-combined heat and power, and passive flue gas heat recovery systems—are different in application but have some things in common. Both have very low penetration of the market at present, low consumer awareness and, like many new technologies, can be rather costly. More than three years ago, I was renovating my house and putting in various green innovations, and I hoped to install a micro-CHP boiler. The technology, however, has not really come to fruition; it has been on the cusp of happening not for months but years, and we need to drive it forward.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and I share his frustration. We should do what we can to tackle the situation, and I fully empathise with the motives behind the new clauses. I should also make it clear that we already recognise the technologies in some of our support measures. Micro-CHP is supported under the feed-in tariff, and passive flue gas heat recovery systems technology—PFGHRS—could help its own cause enormously if it got a snappier name. We do not need to put that in the Bill, but I am sure it would be extremely helpful.

Micro-CHP is a new technology to the market, and domestic CHP units are the only non-renewable technology currently supported under the feed-in tariff as part of a pilot scheme. Many of us hoped that with the increase in biogas in the grid and the use of other low-carbon alternatives to ordinary gas, CHP could play a much more important role, not only as a low-carbon technology but ultimately as a zero-carbon one. The inclusion of the units in the pilot will be assessed as part of a comprehensive review that will consider all aspects of the scheme, including tariff levels, administration and eligibility of technologies.

The industry tells us that there are probably fewer than 1,000 micro-CHP units installed in the whole country—that is obviously why I did not get mine. That is in stark contrast to the 20 million gas boilers. I set those figures out not to be discouraging but to explain the scale of the challenge we face.

Tomorrow, the Department of Energy and Climate Change will publish its long-awaited microgeneration strategy. It focuses on tackling non-financial barriers to microgeneration—such as skills, technology, and information and advice—in the context of the financial incentives that we are putting in place: the feed-in tariff, the renewable heat incentive and, of course, the green deal. The strategy has commensurate ambition behind it.

I recognise that domestic heating requirements vary widely from situation to situation, and that a range of technologies will be needed to meet each situation in the most cost-effective manner. At present, I fear that it would be wrong to mandate the use of a particular technology if an alternative could deliver the same carbon savings more cost-effectively. We will, however, continue to monitor technological innovation across all technologies, including, among others, micro-CHP, passive flue gas heat recovery systems, heat pumps and solar. There is potential particularly for the first two of those systems, and we will genuinely keep them under review.

I share the desire expressed by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test to see micro-CHP and PFGHRS develop alongside the other more mainstream technologies, but for that to happen effectively we need to establish the long-term potential of the growth of the technologies in the market. As such, I propose to discuss new clause 19 further with Members and invite them to talk about it with my officials. I intend to come back on Report with further details on how we will progress those two technologies, and on the course of action we propose in order to deliver that enhanced level of ambition.

On new clauses 20 and 49, I intend to have discussions with the organisations concerned to establish a meaningful dialogue and a much greater sense of ambition and momentum in pressing forward with the development of PFGHRS—including the move towards a snappier name.

I wish to say a few words about the important point that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion made about carbon monoxide, because cases involving it can be a matter of life and death. Considerable work has already been done, following a commitment made by my noble Friend Lord Marland in the other place. I have met the all-party gas safety group and a range of stakeholders to discuss their concerns in detail, and I am grateful for their help and expertise in assisting my officials and me in this matter. My officials then met industry stakeholders to think through potential solutions. As a result, we have decided to make clear requirements in the new green deal installer standards, which we are developing with the British standards institute. I have informed the group of my decision.

We think it unlikely that the green deal will affect carbon monoxide levels negatively; indeed, it will promote new boilers, which overall will help to reduce carbon  monoxide emissions. Automatically fitting a carbon monoxide monitor to every building as necessary could add to the overall costs of a green deal package and could hinder the golden rule. Instead, we suggest requiring green deal installers to assess the carbon monoxide impact of their work—that will not be discretionary—and fit a monitor where deemed appropriate. They will also be obliged to check any existing monitors to ensure that they work adequately and have not passed their use-by date. In addition, the energy company obligation will be covered by the same standard.

I very much hope that assures the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that we take carbon monoxide poisoning extremely seriously and that we are already engaged with the industry and will come forward with further details. I take on board fully the sense of direction, purpose, drive and ambition that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test seeks to inject into the technology agenda of micro-CHP and flue gas, and I assure him that although we are unable to accept the amendment, we are committed to finding other means to drive forward the technologies positively. On that basis, I urge him to consider withdrawing the motion.