At the same time, pressure is mounting on world leaders ahead of the COP26 international climate talks to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels, including natural gas. The gas shortage and sense of urgency around the climate crisis have raised an important question: Is there a better way to heat our homes?
Here’s what you need to know.
Green hydrogen: This fuel has also been touted as a clean alternative since it can be derived from sources like water, rather than fossil fuels, and is produced with renewable energy. But the fuel is still in development phase, and some experts say that using solar or wind energy to produce another fuel right now is a waste of precious renewables. Green hydrogen is widely seen as appropriate for heavy industry and large vehicles, like planes and ships.
Heat pumps: There are becoming a popular alternative. There are two main types — air source heat pumps, which extract heat from the air, and ground source heat pumps, which extract heat from the ground — and both work essentially like the reverse of a refrigerator.
“If the government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale. This means substantial grants for heat pump installations, especially for the poorest families, removing VAT on green home technologies and a phase out of gas boilers early next decade,” said Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr.
The UK government is due to set out its plans to cut carbon emissions from homes in a policy paper in the coming weeks, ahead of the COP26 summit.
Despite this growth, heat pumps still meet less than 5% of global heating needs in buildings, the IEA said.
Gas is getting expensive, but is it worsening the climate crisis?
While some countries, like the UK, celebrate their phase-out of coal, they are using more gas — but natural gas isn’t exactly a low-emissions fuel either.
One issue affecting the urgency with which people view the need to switch away from natural gas may be as simple as its name.
“The findings suggest that climate communicators should describe natural gas using the terms “methane gas” or “methane,” which is the main component of this energy source,” the researchers concluded.
The IEA has said that no new fossil fuel boilers should be sold globally from 2025 if the world is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, where the amount of emissions is not greater than those removed from the atmosphere.
That’s going to require a huge transformation. As many countries wean themselves off coal — which is generally the biggest emitter of all widely used fossil fuels — they are switching to natural gas as a “bridging fuel” during the transition to renewables playing a bigger role in the energy mix.
Why are these alternatives so hard to access?
People don’t necessarily have that much power over the energy sources for their homes, unless they are fairly wealthy. This also depends on where you live — some countries have done more than others to help households move away from gas.
Also, if you’re in a block of flats, as many people are, you may have even less of a say.
The UK government has said it plans to ban gas boilers in new-build homes from 2025, with low-carbon heating systems to be installed in their place. It also intends to stop the sale of new gas boilers from 2035.
But heat pumps remain expensive and their installation often also requires broader changes inside the property, said Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs, senior research associate in sustainability at the UK’s Lancaster University. As well as replacing their individual gas boilers, people may need to install bigger radiators and underfloor heating to ensure their homes are warm enough.
Ground source heat pumps require space to either bury a pipe in a loop under a garden or dig a deep borehole. That’s not always realistic in urban areas, where air source heat pumps — which look a bit like air conditioning units — are a better option. “They don’t require as much space, but they’re not as efficient,” Ellsworth-Krebs told CNN.
The country’s many older, draftier homes also present an obstacle, she said, since heat pumps produce a lower, constant form of heating that works best with a tight building fabric.
The UK government has been accused of flip-flopping on its policies on solar panels and heat pumps, with rebates that have been introduced and then withdrawn. Its flagship “Green Homes Grant” — which was supposed to help hundreds of thousands of households improve their insulation and install low-carbon heating such as heat pumps — was scrapped in March after just six months.
“I think it shouldn’t be on you as a homeowner, or a landlord, to be making a lot of these big investments,” she said.
CNN’s Angela Dewan contributed to this report.