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Electric heating systems exist now and must be rolled out, says new E.On boss

Electric heating systems such as heat pumps “exist now” and need to be installed rather than waiting for other solutions which are unproven, the new boss of E.On has said.

Chris Norbury, who leads the energy company in the UK, said that it was important to “have an open mind” to all technologies which can heat homes without producing carbon emissions.

But the focus should be systems that can be used now, rather than in decades from today.

“We have to have an open mind to all technologies that give us the opportunity to drive the energy transition,” he told the PA news agency.

A homeowner turns down the temperature of a gas boiler in Basingstoke, Hampshire
Britons will have to choose new ways of heating their homes (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“In terms of the opportunity to electrify heating and homes, it is there now. The technology exists now. You don’t have a long period of time which you have to wait before you can act.

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“Therefore, for us, our focus is very much on the opportunity we have in front of us now to decarbonise heating, to make energy more affordable, through a greater degree of electrification.”

He added: “Addressing the climate crisis is not something that can wait 10 years.”

The words came in response to a question about the at times heated debate between advocates of heat pumps – a way of heating your home with electricity – and those who think that hydrogen, a gas, should be burnt in homes to heat them.

At the moment, a majority of the UK’s homes are heated by burning natural gas. But this is a fossil fuel and burning it causes carbon emissions as well as releasing chemicals which can be unhealthy to breathe in.

There are several potential solutions which their proponents can help the UK meet its climate targets.

One is so-called district heating networks, which work best in cities, where people in big buildings, or even whole neighbourhoods, all share hot water.

Another option is heat pumps. These work like a reverse air conditioner, and can be very energy efficient.

Critics of heat pumps point to two weaknesses: They are not always as efficient in poorly insulated homes, which are common in Britain, and it is more difficult to install them in some buildings, such as blocks of flats.

The other option is hydrogen, which does not produce carbon emissions when it burns.

Those who oppose the use of hydrogen point to the fact that the technology is unproven at scale, that most hydrogen is produced from natural gas so still emits a lot of carbon, and that producing hydrogen in an environmentally friendly way requires many times more electricity than just using that electricity directly to heat homes.

“Is the electrification of heating the right thing to do? Both in terms of the ability to decarbonise heating, does it make energy more affordable for customers, and does it create good jobs? It does all of those things,” Mr Norbury said.