France is considering a ban on new gas boilers, it has emerged, as part of a drive to cut the country’s carbon emissions.
The government has launched a consultation on the matter to help it reach a final decision.
Gas boilers are used by 11.2 million main homes in France. This compares to 2.7 million oil boilers, 11.2 million electric ones - of which 2.3 million work with a heat pump - and 3.1 million with wood heaters.
“[A ban] is one of the possibilities being considered, we’re going to ask the industry about this issue,” said France’s ecological transition ministry.
It added there would be no “requirement to replace” existing boilers in the event of a ban and the change would be made “very gradually”.
It came after France’s prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, announced “an ecological plan” to “secure climate change plans in the country by 2030” and “speed up the dynamic to dispose of fossil boilers” in commercial and residential buildings”.
The case for a ban: 60% of building emissions from gas boilers
The main argument in favour of a ban centres on how much greenhouse gases the boilers emit.
Currently, the use of buildings (outside of construction) emits 18% of France’s greenhouse gases, of which 60% comes from gas boiler heating, according to France’s ecological transition ministry.
The government is aiming to reduce the current CO2 emissions from buildings from 75 million tonnes in 2021, to 30 million tonnes by the end of the decade.
Achieving this will “require a drastic reduction of emissions linked to oil and gas, by speeding up the replacement of gas and fuel boilers in homes”, it said.
Gas boilers are not always the most efficient way to heat your home and they also typically need a water storage tank, which can take up a lot of space. Propane heaters are also currently more expensive, as the price has risen above that of natural gas.
Gas boilers also require regular servicing and possible repair, which can cost extra for a household.
The case against a ban: ‘Stigmatising gas isn’t positive for France’
Gas boilers have a number of advantages. They can use natural gas or propane and are relatively easy to install. You can also add a thermostat or programmer to them, to reduce consumption.
Cost of gas boilers versus heat pumps
And, at an average cost of between €3,000-7,000, they are also generally much less expensive to install than oil boilers, wood-fired boilers, or heat pumps.
Consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has called the prospect of a ban “a catastrophe for the purchasing power of 40% of homes”.
It also said its research had found that quotes for heat pumps could reach as much as €20,000, and cost on average at least €10,000 more than an efficient gas boiler.
The consumer group said that people were already struggling to keep up with payments and services for heat pumps ”that have not been installed by a professional”.
Heat pumps also tend not to last as long as gas boilers, so need repairs and replacements more often.
UFC-Que Choisir added: “The replacement of 12 million gas boilers with heat pumps across the next few years risks causing a rise in aggressive sales tactics and wide-scale scams…and to cost a fortune for households.”
Scams have already proliferated as a result of existing boiler aids, the group said, with a high risk of the same thing happening again in future in the event of a ban.
Another argument against a ban is that it could pose a real threat to jobs and industry; 130,000 people in France work in the sector, of which 38,000-45,000 work directly in gas boiler installation and servicing.
However, some of the 16,000 people currently training as boiler installation technicians are also receiving training in how to install less-polluting heat pump boilers as an alternative.
Some critics say that instead of an outright ban, the government should seek ways to make gas more eco-friendly and improve housing insulation so that less gas is needed overall.
Jean-Christophe Repon, vice-president of local business union l’Union des entreprises de proximité (U2P) and president of the small building businesses group la Confédération de l'artisanat et des petites entreprises du bâtiment (Capeb) told FranceInfo: “Stigmatising gas isn’t positive for France.
“I think if we are going to rise to the challenge of the ecological transition, we must work with gas, by working with it better and making it greener.”
Made in China carbon footprint
Mr Repon said: “Taking away a gas system only to replace it with a heat pump that’s made in China, I don’t think that’s beneficial for the planet. We are trying to find the best solution so that we have the right elements in the right place.”
UFC Que-Choisir said a similar thing: “The components of heat pumps generally come from Asia. Their carbon footprint is, therefore, larger than that of gas boilers built in France or Spain.”
Mr Repon added: “Of course, we need to move away from fossil fuels…but it seems pertinent to finance better boilers [instead], which use less gas, and make better use of greener gas, like biomethane. We’re not just arguing for the status quo. We want to save the planet.
“But it doesn’t seem like a good idea to give a ‘ban’ date right now. We have to work with the industry in function of their work and expertise,” he said.
What are the alternatives to a gas boiler?
The government has said that the main aim would be to replace fossil fuel boilers with ground heat pumps (although, again, it has said that there will not be an obligation for people to replace gas boilers in the event of a ban).
Ground heat pumps are known as pompes à chaleur, or PAC in French. They are typically seen as an ecological alternative for heating houses and so can be eligible for a number of schemes where government aid may be given.
There are three main types of heat pumps: air-to-air heat pumps, air-to-water heat pumps, and geothermal heat pumps.
The cost can be between €5,000 (the lower end of the scale for air-to-air heat pumps) and €20,000 (for top-range geothermal heat pumps) and aid can differ depending on the heat pump you install.
Currently, the government offers a one-off payment of up to €5,000, to help you make certain eco-friendly renovations to your property, including for a heat pump.
Ecology Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher has highlighted that the pumps are “a particularly suitable option for rural areas”.
And, although heat pumps are more expensive to install, a household could save, on average, at least €800 per year compared to heating with heating oil (fioul), and €500 per year compared to heating with gas.
The use of geothermal heat pumps in France remains low, especially compared to some neighbouring countries such as Switzerland.
There are currently 200,000 geothermal heat pumps in France, but only around 3,000 are sold for installation per year. Geothermal heat represents only 1% of heat generation in France, of around 6 TWh.
How can I take part in the consultation?
The official page for the consultation is on the government website here.
You can download the form in PDF format and also take part in the consultation by answering questions online.
You can access the online questionnaire by clicking on the blue button on the webpage above. The form then asks for details including your name and email address before starting the consultation.