/ Sustainability

What does COP26 mean for you?

On 1 November, the 26th yearly Conference of Parties (COP) on Climate Change begins in Glasgow. What do you think needs to happen, and what will be decided?

COP26 will see the governments of the world discussing and agreeing actions to tackle the climate crisis. These are expected to include the phasing out of coal, ending deforestation, switching to electric vehicles and investing more in renewable energy.

The UK government has stressed that consumer support and change is critical to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But our research shows that half of consumers want it to be more ambitious.

Obstacles to going green

As we’ve found in previous investigations, there are too many obstacles right now for most of us to really ‘go green’; from a lack of electric car charging to a lack of sustainable home heating methods.

Our latest investigation also found that more needs to be done to make sure green energy tariffs aren’t just marketing spin.

Discover more about Which?’s commitment to sustainability

It starts with governments and businesses. They need to lead the way by making it easy and affordable for everyone to take steps to be greener. Only then can the nation make the big changes needed to reach net-zero as soon as possible.

Driving necessary change

Which? is here to support and help you make sustainable choices, highlighting Eco Buys and other ways you can reduce your environmental impact. And we’ll also continue to work with the government and businesses to drive the drastic but necessary change, in a way that’s right for you and all UK consumers.

Live more sustainably: get our free Sustainability newsletter and make changes for you and the planet

What meaningful action do you think needs to come out of COP26? What should governments and consumers be doing to make serious progress against climate change?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments.


To begin again now everything was sent and disappeared.
COP 26 has to persuade the international community to act together. With so many agendas and so many different country ambitions it is difficult to see how this will happen. The world is a more angry place than it was a few years ago. China is looking to annex other land, and is increasing its military capability, and Russia has been belligerent. This has resulted in other nations stepping up defence and flash points are becoming more numerous. With this going on, there is no proper focus on climate, which will become a greater threat to everyone than the enemy across the water.
So far, there have been a few floods, a few cities have been destroyed by hurricanes, a few thousand homes and a few million acres have been destroyed by fire and drought has been silently killing people in the the “third world.” It has not been enough to make governments really want to act. They talk about it and set targets, but nothing really happens. COP26 seems to be a final push to actually get nations to realise that they have to act and act together. No country should consider its own internal plans greater than those concerning the climate. They must do more than talk at COP 26 they must begin to take steps to put the climate right. There is a negativity to conquer and much ill feeling to work around. if COP 26 does nothing else, it should be powerful enough to make everyone know that when things get really grim – it begins to hurt those in power as well as those who inhabit,- it is too late. Success at COP26 will mean an international road map and more than vague promises to keep to it. Success at COP 26 will be an international movement that begins to oversee climate change and has the power to make it happen. Will it happen? Either it will or there will be a disaster unfolding which no nation can avoid.

To be pessimistic I don’t see a lot happening. To use this country as an example, which is quite a comparatively small generator of greenhouse gases, how are a lot of people going to be able to afford to replace their gas boilers with inefficient heat pumps – even with the £5000 subsidy? Also, for the same reason, how can people change their cars for electric ones? If all this magically happens, where is the extra electricity going to come from? The only answer to this is by building nuclear power stations which by now is far too late. I can’t see any green solutions being able to supply the necessary quantity.
The large polluters – especially China – will carry on using coal in great quantities so the future is very bleak.

It seems to me that the only way to stop China from polluting the world is for the world to stop buying things from China.

Absolutely John. Trouble is we don’t know things come from China until we get them in our hands and read the small print. It’s the manufacturers who have found cheap labour to cut costs and have gained willing Chinese to supply it, so that they can saturate the world and then blackmail it. We should be putting pressure on the likes of Bosch et-al to construct their merchandise here and if that costs more, then it is a price worth paying.
This is being typed on my lap top and sent via my telephone. Both, I suspect, made in China.

I agree, Vynor, and it is very annoying. It is a great shame that many good manufacturing companies are sourcing parts or even whole units from China because the low wages are very good for high volumes even allowing for the shipping costs. It is highly likely that some European or American manufacturers of power tools and mechanical equipment have made the machine tools and assembly robots ‘at home’ and installed them in China for mass production of the goods. In the process we have lost our own manufacturing capacity and it will be very difficult to reinstate it.

I was pleased to find two Makita power tools I bought recently were made in Wales.

But surprised to find of two DeWalt tools, a saw table and a thicknesser, one was made in Taiwan and one in China. At the garden centre today where I hoped to buy some plant labels, they had not had any for 12months – normally imported from China.

It is high time we mad stuff again ourselves.

Thanks for a provocative Conversation, Aaron. The phase-out of fossil fuels and move towards electric vehicles has already received a great deal of attention in the press and there has been some discussion on Conversation, albeit with few contributors.

Even if the UK does its best to reduce its carbon footprint, what about other countries. In the same way that consumers may fill up their tanks or empty supermarket shelves, there is now a major increase in demand for fossil fuels at a time when we should be moving away from them: https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/big-fossil-fuel-producers-plans-far-exceed-climate-targets-un-says-2021-10-20/

I have not seen much about what is going to happen about air travel, which is well known to contribute to climate change.

Although many of us accept the need for change there is a strong reluctance to give up anything we already have, unless that is not important to individuals.

I would like to see more input from younger people, who will bear the brunt of the changes needed to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

I am encouraged that Which? keeps mentioning sustainability. It’s difficult for an organisation that has focused so much on product testing and telling its members about the latest products. Hopefully in time we will see the recommendation to buy less but buy products that we will make good use of and will continue to do their job for years.

I am optimistic about the future though individuals and countries need to pull together more than ever before.

The UK backed out of its ‘committent’ to force all new builds to have solar panels. The main argument–cost–was they didn’t want it to add around £5K to the price of a £300,000 house.

Unfortunately, many new-build developments will not help home-owners to install solar panels later if they wish to because the housing layouts have not been designed to optimise the orientation of the properties for solar gain.

The changes to the tariff regime have also exercised a natural curb on the progress of solar installations. There was an inbuilt inequality in who could benefit from the early generous feed-in tariffs but the subsidy nevertheless represented a very economical way of kick-starting large-scale renewable energy production.

If the only use of solar power was for water heating in the summer months it would have been useful in environmental terms.

That is shocking! What’s another £5K on a £300,000 house?

Mike says:
7 November 2021

There speaks someone who is “comfortably well off! The majority of younger potential homebuyers can’t even afford a £200k house.

You say that the early feed-in tariffs were generous,but i must point out that when i got my panels 10 years-ago i had to pay over £10,000 for just 4 panels which are rated at approx 1Kw of generation so the tariffs weren’t that generous.

Similar here: £6k for six panels totalling 1.4kWp (the ‘p’ means ‘peak’ – something that has never been realised). The max I have ever recorded was 1.2kW on a cold, clear and sunny May afternoon. However, by getting in before March 2012, I’m netting ~£600 a year through feed-in tariff, which means a return on investment (ROI) of 10%. The ROI on my pension annuity was 6% when I took it out – even that seems generous today.

My system in relative terms is ancient: it only produces 235Wp from a standard 1.6m by 1m panel. The same sized panel these days can produce 380W. But without the feed-in tariff, where’s the incentive? Export payments (ie. for what you put back into the grid when you’re using less than you’re generating) are derisory – and it’s all complicated by having a separate export meter. What was wrong with these old (but very accurate) electro-mechanical meters, which would go backwards when you are exporting? That way, it all gets sorted out automatically. Or is that too simple for our greedy profiteering energy companies?

It’s likely to add to mortgage payments. But the flip side is that it reduces ongoing energy payments. Also, in my opinion, the major obstacle to energy efficient new housing is the developers. There are plenty of examples of energy efficient housing that don’t break the bank.
See https://www.passivhaustrust.org.uk/what_is_passivhaus.php for some examples.

Sue Gleave says:
24 October 2021

Improving public transport could mean fewer cars on the road. Even electric cars cause a lot of particulate pollution from tyres.

David Russell Smith says:
7 November 2021

There will be a massive increase in demand for electricity over the coming years, but nobody has explained how this can be provided reliably and at a reasonable price.

There are some massive offshore wind farms under development at the moment and a massive nuclear power station with another one under consideration. Whether this proves to be enough remains to be seen.

I am hoping there will be some massive reductions in the demand for energy as we improve sustainability and stop replacing things that still have some life left in them.

The UK has managed to make a substantial reduction in power used to produce electricity over the years, for a variety of reasons: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/historical-electricity-data

As fossil fuels are phased out we will undoubtedly need more electricity but we also have to make more savings. It has been suggested that simply just build a large number of new power stations but that is not economically viable since these will have to be paid for by consumers and industry. Energy prices will rise and we will have to support the vulnerable.

Perhaps it’s time to phase out products that are not sensible use of energy. One example is outdoor electric (and gas) heaters of the type found in some pub gardens. Perhaps they should be renamed ‘global warmers’ to raise awareness of them.

It is possible that the large offshore wind farms could be used to produce electricity to generate hydrogen – effectively renewable energy that can be stored and something that is in short supply.

There is some more illuminating information here:
”In 2020, Britain’s electrical use was the lowest it had been since 1983. This wasn’t entirely due to COVID – demand for electricity had been falling for more than a decade anyway, thanks to savings from energy-efficient appliances, moving industry offshore and consumers becoming more careful as costs increased.

But demand will bounce back after COVID. And the electrification of transport and heat, both critical to achieving net-zero emissions, will require lots more electricity in future.

Simply replacing the 40% of electricity generated by fossil fuels will require substantially more new power “stations” whether wind, solar, nuclear, tidal or geothermal. Let alone the new demand that will arise from all electric vehicles, home heating and cooking. A government paper suggests that we will need at least double the current electricity supply, so I see no way making savings is going to offset that.

It is inevitable that we will have to pay for the construction of new sources of what ever form.

I also hope we will move more “offshore” industry “onshore” and, indeed add to it. Rebalancng our methods of wealth creation is, in my view, essential for a more sustainable future with less dependence on products from other countries and more things to export.

Wavechange mentioned generating hydrogen, already proposed for transport use and I am wondering if it could be used in domestic gas installations as the feeder network, ex-gas, is already in place.
I do not understand why so much emphasis is being placed on electric cars. Their batteries are consuming rare metals, and who will want to buy a second-hand car with it probably needing a new battery. It is a complete non-sense, simply because it appears to be a simpler option to hydrogen. I am getting increasingly cynical – I expect someone in the City of London stands to make a killing and had nobbled the decision takers.
I also think that growing biomass as a fuel is a non-starter when we will need land for food production. I have not been able to get a figure from the Government for the carbon footprint of the entire process of getting wood pellets as a fuel for Drax Power station.
Also I believe that trading in carbon usage should be discontinued as again I believe that the moneymen reap the benfit and there is less incentive for the developed countries to get their act together.
Finally, through Which? pressure must be brought to bear on the manufacturers to find some way that meant that mobile phones and similar devices which rely on batteries would be rated on their life and there should be updates available to make them viable for far more than the handful of years which seems to be the life at present when updates to the O/S end.

Hi Andrew – Some of us have raised questions about the biomass operation at Drax, several times. When I visited a couple of years ago I was told that the reason why it is imported so far (from North America) sourcing more local supplies in sufficient quantity were not practical. We were told about carbon capture but I went away feeling unconvinced.

I’ve been told by someone working in the industry about trials with supplying existing boilers with hydrogen and up to 14-16% this works fine with many models. I do not know whether changing the injector would be sufficient to run existing boilers on 100% hydrogen. The remaining cast iron gas mains would not be compatible with hydrogen and work to replace them with plastic has been taking place over years. There is more risk of explosion with hydrogen than with natural gas but this does not seem to be a major concern, from what I have read.

Our larger cities suffer from illegal pollution, which is one of the drivers for introducing electric vehicles. Hydrogen-fuelled buses seem to be a viable alternative and there has been plenty of news about what happening in Ireland. The problem is that until hydrogen produced from mains electricity currently requires a significant amount of gas. That will change when enough renewable electricity is available.

I feel very strongly about the need for users to be able to replace lithium batteries in phones, etc. None of the main brands of smartphone make this possible. I wonder if that will be discussed at COP26. Maybe it’s time to tell businesses how to behave responsibly.

Some have questioned the use of biomass at Drax for a long time. “Old Sparky” has from time to time explained the fallacious way it is classed as “sustainable” in its own right, let alone considering the transport involved. A recent piece can be seen here: https://www.private-eye.co.uk/news

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that burning biomass has reduced the amount of coal being burned to produce electricity. Even with desulphurisation of flue gases, coal is an extremely polluting fuel. Sadly the two remaining coal-fired units at Drax, which were scheduled for decommissioning, could be kept in operation if the government wishes.

I don’t see that as any excuse for burning wood. Particularly given a £700 milluon a year subsidy by the taxpayer on fallacious grounds. One of which was carbon capture; as far as I am aware this is not likely to be available soon. And Drax has carried on polluting for nearly 10 years at our expense.

Are you suggesting that Drax should have continued burning coal, the most polluting energy source?

Charging electric cars with electricity made from gas does not make a great deal of sense when we are supposed to be moving away from fossil fuels but at least it helps tackle air pollution in London and other cities.

This criticism in PEYE and elsewhere of Drax concerns the principle of burning wood pellets.

As a separate issue we should probably have been developing tidal and nuclear and not more pollution.

It produces much less pollution to burn biomass than to burn coal and it was relatively easy to convert to this fuel. Tidal and nuclear power would have taken years to implement.

Every way of generating electricity causes environmental damage and in my view we need to minimise electricity use by using it more efficiently and being less wasteful. Obviously our generation requirements will increase substantially when fossil fuels are retired from heating and powering vehicles but efficiency must be the top priority.

So it is not quite as bad as coal? That is hardly an endorsement. ”However, clamour is growing ever louder from scientists worldwide to stop classifying the burning of mature trees as anything other than the massive source of avoidable CO2 emissions that it is.

The £billions we, the taxpayer, have given and are giving Drax to, support this polluting generation could have been used to insulate homes, provide green public transport, build wind and solar farms, research tidal……. to help prepare for a sustainable energy future.

”Tidal and nuclear power would have taken years to implement.”. They are a significant part of the future and, if you want hydrogen, essential to give the energy necessary. Simply dismissing them as “not instant” is just kicking the can down the road.

One priority is to use energy better but only one; being more efficient will no way avoid a very substantial increase in electricity supply that is necessary. That is the number one priority; efficiency gains are small in comparison. Electric personal transport, heating, industry, public transport, goods transport, hydrogen fuel….. largely currently dependent on fossil fuels will all need electricity. As will switching over around 40% of our existing electricity generation that is currently produced using fossil fuel. Efficiency savings won’t come anywhere near avoiding such a change.

I want to see a future where we all have the energy we need to live properly, provided by sustainable sources; we can do that if we face up to the effort required. Without them any undefined “environmental damage” in building them will be of no consequence as the future will be lost.

Coal is recognised worldwide as the biggest source of atmospheric pollution.

The government and its successors, guided by people with expertise, is going to have to take us forwards and it’s not going to be easy. There is a great deal to be done but we don’t need knee-jerk reactions.

What is ” knee jerk” about what has been said? Haven’t we seen this coming for years? I wonder how long some want to put off the day when we need to address sustainable energy production on the scale needed to meet the sustainability targets declared. Prevarication won’t do that.

Ian has again mentioned Small Modular Reactors. Hopefully a significant source of electricity without the seemingly interminable time it takes to agree on a major nuclear power station and its construction.

We can follow developments but there is not a great deal that the citizens of this country can do to achieve targets sooner, other than improving our own homes.

The NS&I Green Saving Bond could help to fund development of cleaner energy but the current interest rate over three years is not very attractive in view of what could happen to inflation.

I cannot see why the old mains would not work with hydrogen. Town gas contained a high proportion of it and there was no plastic then.

Generating green hydrogen from electrolysis of water is not that efficient and requires a lot of electricity. The first use of green hydrogen should be to eliminate the use of coke as a reducing agent in the production of iron from iron ore and for other chemical processes. Some estimates suggest that this use alone would require more renewable electricity than is currently produced worldwide.

At the moment, we are lucky if we produce 40% of our current electricity requirements from renewable sources. We need to produce the other 60% and then probably multiply the total by 4 again to cover transport, heating, industry etc.

Margaret Hutchinson says:
7 November 2021

There is a lot about electric cars but the batteries need cobalt. Where is this mined – the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Is it mined safely – no. There is no H&S for the miners, no safety equipment, if there is a cave in the miner is dead. The mining has polluted the land so food cannot be grown. It has polluted the river – no fish and the river will pass through another country and eventually the ocean. Women are giving birth to deformed babies because of the pollution.
I know we must do things to prevent climate change but what about the poor people in the DRC what is going to happen to them. We must consider their welfare and help them

I wish Which? would give an ethics rating for each product it reviews and maybe miss out covering the worst ones.

The planet cannot sustain population increasing. I’m doing my bit.

Robert Smith says:
7 November 2021

We have insulated our house to the relevant standards as we have extended and renovated. However, with our loft room extension we could do with advice for people who want to check and update our insulation particularly where there are complicated areas around a loft room etc.
Also, we have had external wall insulation added of which we are very pleased. However, with our north facing wall with large windows we are sure that we are loosing significant heat through them. Advice on possible improved double glazing units and grants will be very helpful.
In short, whilst insulating poorly insulated properties has to be a priority I feel the government should also focus on those with more complex insulation needs.

No politician or any one else is prepared to tackle the “elephant in the room”. The world population has doubled and doubled again in my lifetime from 2 billion to 8 billion and is heading for 12 billion in 2100. How are they going to be fed? Where will they live? How can we go carbon neutral?

Cutting the birth rate does not work, ask China. Too many oldies not earning a living and not enough young people to support them. It is the same in Germany, with a birth rate of 1.4, where the frau goes out and stuffs herself on Black Forest Gateau instead of lying back in bed and getting stuffed. The crisis is serious.

In Africa, in many parts, the birth rate is 4 to 5. Where is the food and what do they cook on? Wood or charcoal. End of the forests? But we are supposed to be planting forests!

Where is the politician who will bring in a cull of useless mouths at say 75 and reducing by a year every two?

Something has to be done. What is it? We need to know now. You ask a politician!

Most experts on demography believe the world population will stabilise at between nine and ten billion around 2050, because the number of people in absolute poverty is steadily reducing. As people become less poor they tend to have fewer children.
China continued the one-child policy for too long (apart from the immorality of it). The aim should be to keep population age groups roughly constant without big bulges or gaps.
Africa is endowed with abundant solar energy. It may need some help to harness that energy, but that’s what our foreign aid budget is for.

Cutting the birth rate does not work, ask China. Too many oldies not earning a living and not enough young people to support them.

Covid perhaps? I’m not suggesting for one moment this was a deliberate release. However, it could be nature’s way of redressing the age demographics.

Pandemics don’t seem to have much effect on population growth, fuelled by younger people. (Neither have wars that remove a lot of young men). Declared worldwide deaths from Covid so far are 5 million, 0.064% of the population. It is likely to be very under-reported ( the estimate is around 4x) of course but it is unlikely to do much to address rebalancing demographics, I suggest.

Under reported? Surely not! China has reported the staggering statistic of 4,636 deaths [equivalent to 3 per million].

The UK’s equivalent rate is 2,085 per million, but then we were not properly prepared with the necessary propaganda in place.

It is a pleasant change to see constructive comments on here, as opposed to newspaper blogs which seem to be taken over by climate change deniers, and Covid-19 deniers too.
I was a meteorologist before I retired, and my last job was Met Office Chief Forecaster for Defence. Therefore I know a lot about atmospheric processes and the mechanism of global warming, and can assure readers that the future for mankind is dire if we don’t get this right.
I am not too concerned about whether today’s national leaders opt for 2050 or 2070 to go carbon neutral. Those targets will change as the people will change, and as new facts unfold.
I am more concerned that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by the intermediate year of 2030 in order to stand a chance of meeting the 1.5ºC target.
Now for the practical suggestions. Insulation of all buildings is a no-brainer. The government needs to offer 100% of the cost up-front. It could be partly or even wholly loan- rather than grant-funded, to be repaid when the reduced heating bills materialise. That need cost the Treasury nothing in the long run.
All south-facing roofs, whether domestic, commercial or public sector, must have solar PV panels. Powerful incentives must be offered to persuade reluctant or cash-strapped home-owners and businesses to decarbonise. Remaining decarbonisation could be from heat pumps, geothermal or whatever source is available locally. The government must distribute the lion’s share of the cost, funded pound-for-pound by taxation on producers and consumers who pollute and will not decarbonise. Most people will see sense if their pockets are otherwise likely to be hit. Landlords must be compelled to decarbonise all of their properties, again with loans available, with tax-deductible interest and long term repayment.

Geoff Butcher says:
7 November 2021

All eggs in one basket with electric cars is a big mistake. The UK, regardless of what political party is in power, is utterly incapable of installing a suitable power infrastructure in the timescale that the Government has set itself or anything like it. Banning new hybrids from 2030 is also not going to help with the gradual transition to a non fossil fuel future for our transport. Is there, for example, any significant investment into the feasibility of hydrogen power which could have the added bonus of making us less reliant on other countries? I am all for sensible, measured and deliverable change but COP26 would do well to remember that blinkered obsession can often breed resistence and resentment, more especially if those countries with by far the biggest problems to address are not taking significant enough action themselves. Neither does it help COP26 credibility when it flies in celebrities to lecture us all.

Cassandra says:
7 November 2021

It looks as though holidays and travel generally is now a selfish luxury. Maybe it will have to be rationed. People only allowed to fly so many miles/carbon footprint per year. Hard on folk with family in Australia …

The biggest barriers to progress on climate change are (IMO):
(a) systematic deceit by governments, especially in not saying how urgent the situation has now become, and in overclaiming the effectiveness of their actions
(b) the lack of effective media scrutiny that should be making this common knowledge – and I have to include Which? in this.

For example, the UK’s share of the global carbon budget (how much more CO2 we can dump in the atmosphere) runs out in 3 years – Yes 3 years (https://www.carbonindependent.org/33.html). We need to be making emission cuts of over 10% per year – and people can look at the Manchester Uni report for their local area that explains this via https://carbonbudget.manchester.ac.uk/reports/ .

The UK Government is overclaiming the effectiveness of its Net Zero strategy – the UK would take 3 times its fair share of the residual carbon budget, if all the actions were carried out – but the UK Govt does not say this.

The youth climate activists see through the deceits – see for example Greta Thunberg’s “blah, blah, blah” speech (https://www.carbonindependent.org/119.html). Independent scientists are also well aware of the deceits – see for example Prof Kevin Anderson’s Twitter account: https://twitter.com/KevinClimate .

But much of the media just repeats whatever is in the Government’s press releases with no proper scrutiny – and we have to include (sadly) the Which? reports. Continuing to burn fossil fuels, now that we know the damage from them, is the biggest and worst scam in history by far. Which? should be calling it out, but it is still promoting fossil fuel use e.g. promoting flying for trivial reasons such as holidays.

Jackarry says:
7 November 2021

As I understand it the UK contribution to CO2 emissions is 1.03% compared to the rest of the world.
I understand that the reduction of CO2 is a major issue that is affecting the world climate.
However if we reduce our CO2 emissions to 0 the effect on the total emissions is minimal.
The real issue is to change the major contributors and they are
Who contribute more than 50% of the problem.
So I appreciate the efforts that we in the UK might be making until someone can change the commitment from the rest of the world why should I change me lifestyle at significant cost when they are doing nothing

Britain and its colonial empire was the major industrial and trade producer of CO2 emissions for over 100 years, and a significant contributor to the rise in global temperature that we are already experiencing. So lets all sit back and look smug as we were first to the table and have had our fill.

And remember, it is always easier to change your own behaviour than someone else’s.

Maybe one day we will see both the positives and negatives of the industrial revolution.

Phil says:
9 November 2021

Currently woke-ism just focusses on the negatives.

Mike says:
7 November 2021

All the above comments assume that people are well off and can afford higher taxes and more expensive energy production. For government to fund the cost is nonsensical as they don’t have any money – raised taxes are the only alternative to provide incentives for all the suggestions and that means you and me paying for it. As always the well off will feel a bit of a pinch, the rich won’t notice and the less well off will shoulder most of the pain as proportionally any raise in expenditure cuts more deeply into their limited resources. It all sounds great until you crunch the numbers and people realise how it will affect them financially. China is the only pragmatic nation in that they will pay lip service to anything whilst carrying on doing what they do until commercially viable alternatives are developed – then they will adopt them. Meanwhile the west will beggar itself trying to do everything too quickly beforee replacement technology has been developed commercially to fill the gaps.

I’m lucky enough to live in a low energy house which I built and drive a four year old electric car. I’m constantly asked by friends and colleagues whether they should get a heat pump because we have one. My answer is always “not until you understand how good your house is”. Many condensing gas boilers are set up wrongly and don’t condense or have the frost prevention set up wrongly so they are not efficient. Many are oversized. Lots of houses are draughty and poorly insulated. All of these problems are not solved by simply switching to a different heat source. The country needs an army of well trained heating engineers who understand this stuff, not a bunch of cowboys selling heat pumps. Many plumbers are now learning about this but not nearly enough. The trouble is that the government seems to want a quick fix and training isn’t a quick fix but it is a proper long term fix. The other area where the Government can help is in not bowing to the demands of major house builders and only allowing EPC A (or better) new houses to be built. The Future Homes standard has been argued down by the house builders to EPC ‘C’ which is shocking and not in line with the Independent Assessors (UKCCC) recommendation. EPC ‘C should be the target for all UK homes.

The electric car market will now look after itself. The total cost of ownership of a new one is now less than an ICE car and the purchase cost parity will be here in year or so. The charging problem remains for the moment but a combination of home chargers, on street charging and fast chargers and charging will over come this and the grid will cope.

Geoff Butcher says:
8 November 2021

I totally agree with you about cowboys in the eco heating and related industries. Proper training will be essential if home owners are to get sound advice that allows sensible, appropriate (and costly) decisions to be made. I think, however, that we will come to regret the Government’s electric car obsession for a variety of reasons and I certainly don’t think that the UK will cope with the increased demands of such vehicles or come anywhere near providing adequate capacity for charging for many many years, if at all.

If electric car charging is generally undertaken overnight and during low demand periods during the daytime it should not impose too much of a strain on our generating capacity. It will be many years before every car is electric-powered and they won’t all require charging fully everyday. In the mean time more renewable energy will come on stream and, while supplies are not as reliable as fossil fuels are now, the balance will tilt in favour of electricity. People will have to be more cautious, though, in their use of electricity and price and taxation might exert some influence over that — except for the wealthy members of society who will still expect to be able to buy their way out of any inconvenience.

Our car has a powerful heater which warms the passenger compartment very quickly on a cold morning. It is a little luxury we have come to appreciate. I should be interested to know how good electric cars are at providing ample warmth — or shall we all have to go back to wearing overcoats, hats and gloves when we go out for a drive? Of course, we won’t be able to just go out for a drive any more, will we?

Conventional cars make use of waste heat from their inefficient engines, whereas producing heat from electricity stored in a battery will reduce its range. Warm air heaters fuelled by bioethanol may be used in future, particularly in buses.

Though my main car heater is run through the traditional engine heat system, there is no heat when running on battery alone. Thus it is possible to get in a cold car and drive around cold. To avoid the shivers, Volvo have provided a petrol burning heater which has to be selected on the touch screen. Once this is done it fires up automatically when the car is running. I believe the battery runs a pump and an ignition burner to provide the heat which stops being produced when the fuel tank drops below a quarter full. This all works quite well, though the heat produced is not tropical and is linked to the air conditioning system. The set up makes me slightly nervous. I would have preferred a fan heater and slightly less battery range. I think the full E.V. cars are heated electrically. My air conditioning is all electric.

The batteries in many hybrid cars will not power a car for fifty miles, so it would not be practical to expect the battery to provide heating too. Petrol heaters are effective and safe, as are the diesel ones used in commercial vehicles. As I mentioned above, bioethanol might be used for this purpose in future when fossil fuels are phased out.

There seems to be just 5 hours at night when electricity demand is about 25% below average. If the predicted electric car mileage is to be achieved around 25% of our current total electricity output will be required so I doubt 5h of night time charging will be sufficient. But it will not just be cars; a huge extra demand will come from domestic heating and cooking, mostly at peak times. Plus we need to replace the 40% of fossil-fuelled generation. Then, we have HGVs, trains, public transport, industry. So I see at as inevitable that substantial additional “green” generation will be required. The government estimate 2to 3 times the current capacity.

It is quite right to point out that these loads will only reach their peak in many years, and it will be a gradual transition. But it also takes many years to build the necessary extra generating capacity, and we cannot achieve the former without the latter.

I want to see is all have a decent energy future but am optimistic that we can manage that in the UK. However, we must be prepared to pay the cost.

Thanks Wavechange and Vynor. It seems like we are struggling to continue just as we are with minimal adjustment to the new reality. OK . . . bioethanol is a reasonable substitute for fossil fuel, but will there be enough to meet all similar needs? A woollen coat might be the best solution; a good one will last thirty years and is a renewable and sustainable product.

Bioethanol produces CO2 when burned so does not seem appropriate for heating vehicles?

Bioethanol is produced by growing plants, which consumes carbon dioxide, so overall there is little impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide. Petrol and most diesel fuel now contains biofuels. Hydrated vegetable oil is a biofuel that can be used in some diesel engines. The biggest drawback is that land is needed to produce biofuel and that land could be used to grow trees to help reduce the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As John has pointed out we can always put on a coat when driving in cold weather.

We currently use about 300TWh of natural gas a year domestically, for cooking and heating. That is equal to our total annual electricity consumption. Even if we all install heat pumps with coefficients of performance around 2.5, allowing for a straight replacement for cooking, we will need a 50% increase in our electricity generation to accomplish the government’s aims.

Bioethanol is produced by growing plants, which consumes carbon dioxide, so overall there is little impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide“ But we do want an impact on atmospheric CO2 – it needs to be reduced. So we should use plants to store it, use plants for food, but not burn them. Just as we should be planting trees to take in carbon, not burn them in power stations to release it again.

If the status quo was all we needed to preserve then the argument might be supported but the status quo is what is damaging the planet and needs changing.

Phil says:
9 November 2021

Ammonia is one possibility being explored. It’s a liquid fuel that contains no carbon.

Checking Gridwatch demand is close to the maximum and has been for some weeks. Coal fired generation has been brought back online and the interconnectors are going flat out too. What the addition of 25 million heatpumps and 30 million EVs is going to do unless we add some more (dependable) generating capacity and do it quickly I dread to think.

I’ve been following Gridwatch too, Phil. Christmas is an interesting time. I do not know how much spare capacity (presumably gas) is available to keep the lights on at time of peak demand. One of the French interconnectors was brought back online at reduced capacity following the fire in Kent. It’s likely to be months before full capacity is available again and interconnectors can export electricity as well as import it.

It will be interesting to find out more about ammonia and the energy requirement and global warming potential of its manufacture.

Malcolm – What I said was factually correct and I did express my concern about using land to produce plants for fuel. As should be obvious from my comments I am certainly not in favour of retaining the status quo.

Trees are the most effective way of mopping up carbon dioxide (on land) but deforestation continues. Rural areas are often devoid of anything other than small ornamental trees and bushes. Nowadays we can have plastic grass, and when it starts to grow weeds (didn’t the shop mention that) it can be sprayed with glyphosate. 🙁

The news that the government is likely to back the creation of SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) sited around the UK could be very welcome.

I don’t have a subscription to the FT but here is another article about this: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/15/uk-poised-to-confirm-funding-for-mini-nuclear-reactors-for-green-energy

I hope those who profit from Bitcoin mining will make their own arrangements for generating electricity.

I think Small Modular Reactors are an encouraging prospect, but I still feel we shall need to commit soon to constructing the Sizewell C major nuclear power station and then two more to follow on. Despite the amount of renewable energy [largely from offshore wind turbines] that is already under development the vagaries of wind power and the down-time of nuclear stations will not provide reliable continuous power for essential requirements. Tariff structures and smart metering will come into their own to manage demand: if people wish to watch TV after 10:30 pm they will have to pay more for it.

In my lifetime, there has been considerable opposition to nuclear power and now it is widely regarded as essential for our future thanks to global warming. I’m glad I don’t have a large back garden.

What is the alternative (along with tidal)? Wind is unpredictable, solar is most when we need it least (and doesn’t work at night).

John mentions paying extra if they want peak time electricity. But if sufficient electricity is not available money won’t buy it.

Hopefully small modular reactors will be quicker and cheaper to build, so could help fill gaps while large nuclear power stations and tidal storage schemes are constructed.

John wrote: “…if people wish to watch TV after 10:30 pm they will have to pay more for it.” At present the maximum demand tends to be in the early evening and smart metering should allow us to benefit from cheaper electricity later on.

Phil says:
9 November 2021

People coming home and switching on heat pumps, electric cookers and putting their cars on charge might change that. Off peak could become anything but.

I suspect we will be using fossil fuels for longer than we think since there seems to be no substantive plan to replace them.

To produce electricity efficiently it’s important to maintain a constant load. For domestic users, cheap night time electricity encouraged those with electric heating to have dual tariffs (Economy 7/10). Smart metering should allow us all to benefit from buying electricity when it is cheaper without additional wiring. I’m happy to put the dishwasher on after lunch or later in the evening rather than at 6 pm.

I suspect many already put their dishwashers to work after dinner. If we start charging our cars off peak the demand then will increase and so will the cost – “off- peak” will no longer exist; constant load will mean constant prices.

Prices may vary a little depending upon the source of the electricity – no solar at night, variable wind; predictable tidal and nuclear but their capital costs may make night time energy more expensive.

However, the fact remains that if we want electrical devices (including hydrogen powered produced using electricity) we will need a very substantial increase in generation. How will that be achieved?

It’s too early to predict what the load on the grid throughout a 24 hour period will be in future, but if a better balance is achieved the less need for price variation but I don’t envisage the price becoming constant unless this is engineered, for example by producing hydrogen when demand on the electricity supply is lowest. That might be a sensible approach, but only once it can be produced from renewable electricity.

You keep saying that we need more generation but that’s not much that we the public can do much about. Perhaps it would be reassuring for the government to inform us about its plans.

Pressure continues to encourage us to buy more efficient appliances for our homes and energy ratings provide an incentive to choose wisely. When I was a kid, the Hoovermatic twin-tub washed at high temperature and steamed-up kitchen windows. Nowadays most people wash at low temperature because of better detergents combined with longer washing cycles. Some people in other countries wonder why we don’t wash in cold water in the UK. Efficient heat pump tumble dryers are available for those who need a dryer. There’s not much we, as individuals, can do about electricity generation but plenty we can do about how and when we use it.

Incidentally, I think you are right about fossil fuels continuing in use beyond the current deadlines, Malcolm. I hope that we can try and minimise this use.

Phil says:
9 November 2021

Washing in cold water isn’t suitable for all fabrics and won’t kill germs. Somebody needs to predict what generating capacity might be needed in 5-10 years time because we need to start planning and building it now.

The most commonly used fossil fuel is gas but supplies are insecure and the wholesale price has more than quadrupled since the summer. Renewables are of limited use until we can crack the storage problem, some reliable and economic method of storing surplus generation for when it’s needed.

”It’s too early to predict what the load on the grid throughout a 24 hour period will be in future, ”. But we must, otherwise we cannot plan the generation required. And I believe we can. We should be able to predict the likely EV charging regimes, either by habit or by perhaps timed charging points to impose it. We know when gas heating is used.

We have probably reached the point when many efficiency gains have been made – home appliances, insulation, lower energy lighting, for example. While every little helps it will not offset the large increase in electricity needed. It would be interesting to hear views on how this will be provided.

Providing we do invest in sufficient generation it will not be necessary to wash in cold water.

I assume that this is already being done and the predictions will gradually be improved as we move towards existing and future deadlines. Those involved in generation take into account the TV schedules to predict short term demand. I suspect that future plans for electricity generation could be a matter of national security. I know we need more generating capacity and assume that Boris et al. know too. Phil makes an important point about the cost of gas, which affects our energy security.

Phil wrote: “Washing in cold water isn’t suitable for all fabrics and won’t kill germs.” Modern washing machines rely on the germs being washed out of fabrics in the same way as dirt, rather than killing them. If you choose a 60° cycle on a modern washing machine it’s unlikely to get near 60°C. Which? did a report on this years ago, and last time I checked it was still online. I would not use cold water washes but there is no doubt that lower temperature washing is effective as long as you avoid quick washes.

The government is the facilitator for change. What they do can either be an encouragement for the public and industry to change or they can legislate for change or they can make the status quo unattractive. What ever they do, they have to alter our way of life and do so in a way that brings results. If industry, retail, farming and the public are not motivated to change they will find ways of resisting change, either by voting in someone else to govern or by not changing habits and lifestyle until forced to do so. There is a current backlash against E10 fuel, but it seems as if the government has got away with that, because there has been no action to stop it. This is a case of change by decree and not by consultation.
Our current way of life needs to be altered. We need to:
Examine our use of fossil fuels.
Examine the way we travel, where we travel and in what we travel in.
Examine our diets.
Examine food production.
Examine our house insulation.
Examine our way of heating and hot water production.
Examine our waste disposal and recycling
Examine how future energy is being produced and how much is needed in future.
Examine the purchase and manufacture of “greener” products and their packaging.
Examine the manufacturing problems of rare materials and recycling.

All this at the same time as someone has ruined the world by introducing a deadly virus, and various countries are either in a civil war, wrecked by one, or are sabre rattling and creating a new arms race. In addition energy supplies are being squeezed so that changing them is the lowest priority at present. All this when, in this country, it is almost impossible to visit a doctor or dentist or get an eye test. A population which is negative and upset, is not a population that wants to countenance change, and the prospect of having to change is an unpleasant one.

For each of those items in the list above there should be four things to decide.
What is our final goal to achieve zero – what ever that might be?
What do we need to do to get there?
How are we going to start this process and what steps does each stage of that process need to have?
How do we know when a stage has been successful and the final target has been reached?
I suppose, finally we have to ask whether the population of this country will tolerate what has to be done, especially when other countries don’t seem to be doing as much.
I long for a good, sensible dialogue between government and the population where all these things are thrashed out and we know what is going to happen next.

I believe the key to a comfortable sustainable energy future in the UK is to put in place a cross party, detailed and timely plan to ensure that we have the electricity capacity we need for the future. We are lucky in the UK to have a variety of energy sources to develop – tidal, both flow and storage, offshore wind, solar, nuclear ( large and small). Only government can instigate and coordinate the development of these sources and ensure the costs are fairly distributed across the population. We will have to bear the cost of repairing the damage we have caused so far, and protect our children’s futures.

Of course we can make individual choices but individually we cannot commission a power station, and it is clean power that we must have.

We don’t have to wait for governments to act (although the biggest gains will obviously be made at international level) we can all do our bit. We should start by looking at our own CO2 contributions and thinking about what each of us can do. As a starting point try the CO2 calculator here:


Then go get an Energy Performance Certificate for your house to see where savings can be made. Then put on an extra jumper… Everyone can probably reduce their emmissions without spending even a penny. Unless, you don’t own a jumper 😉