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Are heat pumps the way forward?

In the cold of winter, we lean on the infrastructure of our homes to provide heat to keep us comfortable and in good health. In the UK, we typically use central heating systems which stem from a boiler, which steadily produces a supply of hot water by using gas, oil, or liquified petroleum gas, which are all non-renewable forms of energy.


These non-renewable forms of energy are quite a problem for climate change, as when oils and coal are burned, they release CO2 particles that pollute the air, water and land. The carbon in these fossil fuels has been stored underground for many years, not impacting on our atmosphere because they lay undisturbed, until it is taken from the ground and removed for use in energy. In addition to this, these energy sources are finite, we cannot keep producing oil and coal and so we need to look for alternatives.


One of these alternatives is a heat pump, which can replace your boiler. A heat pump uses a small amount of electricity to capture heat from outside your home and transfer it inside. As a heat pump captures any heat that is already existing in the environment, the system does not burn any fuel and therefore emits no carbon dioxide. Here, the quantity of heat transferred into a home is greater than the quantity of electricity used to power the heat pump system.

An image of a heat pump on the outside of a brick house.
Image from https://resi.co.uk/advice/heat-pumps/how-do-heat-pumps-work

You can get different kinds of heat pumps depending on the renewable source that may best suit your property. These different sources are air, ground, water, solar-assisted, hybrid and air-to-air. If you live in a larger property, you can invest in a cascaded heat pump system which allows for multiple heat pump systems to be installed to meet heating and hot water needs.


We all know that accessibility of low-carbon solutions is key to driving a more sustainable future, and it is wonderful to see the government backing the funding and access of these innovations across the country.


In August of 2023, the UK Government launched an initiative to make retrofitting a heat pump system in your home more accessible, affordable and worthwhile, as they can see the need for a more sustainable form of central heating for our homes and buildings. Their scope of measures include providing varied heat pump grants to improve access with heat pump vouchers available that are worth up to £7,500 for installations.


Lord Callanan, Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance, said:

“Heat pumps are a vital tool in cutting the carbon emissions from people heating their homes, while also helping to drive down costs and boosting our energy security. While a heat pump can be installed for a similar price to installing a gas boiler, the support we’ve put in place means it is an option for more and more households. Today’s changes go even further and will mean even more people could benefit from making the switch, offering them the option for a low-emission, low-cost form of heating their homes.”


When it comes to us evaluating the practicalities of replacing our boilers with heat pumps, we have a few things to consider. Let’s examine the costs:

Source

Cost including installation

Combi boiler

£1,500 - £4,500

System boiler

£1,700 - £4,000

Conventional boiler

£1,700 - £4,000

Electric boiler

£1,600 - £3,500

Heat pump

£760 - £3,800 (or £8,260 - £11,300 without the Boiler Upgrade Scheme discount)

Boiler quotes from Boiler Guide. Heat pump quotes from Octopus Energy and Good Energy for a terraced house.


By comparison, let’s take a look at the CO2 savings, where UK properties can see a saving of around 65% in their home’s carbon footprint, which makes a big impact when you consider the fact that there are 28.4 million households in the UK (based on data from Ibis World).

Source

Carbon intensity (grams of CO2 per kWh)

Efficiency (units of heat energy transferred per unit of energy consumed)

Typical annual home heating usage (kWh)

Total annual carbon footprint (kg CO2)

Gas boiler

203

0.94

11,500

2,484

Heat pump

207

2.8

11,500

850

Data from Good Energy.


That CO2 savings data also shows us that your building will be running more energy efficiently, which will therefore mean that you, as a consumer, take on cost savings when it comes to your energy bills. Heat pumps provide heating that is 3 times more efficient than a gas boiler, consuming far less energy to provide you with the same amount of heating. You also won't be reliant on your running costs changing with the price of fossil fuels. It’s a win-win for your energy bills, and the planet!


There are a few considerations to be made if you're looking to make the switch to a heat pump. Firstly, air source heat pumps are a more cost effective solution compared to ground source or water source heat pumps. You will also need to ensure that your building is well-insulated, draught-proof, and has double or triple glazing to make the most of your heat pump.


Based on these prices, and the carbon savings to be made, heat pumps certainly seem to be the way forward for British buildings.


For more details and the Energy Saving Trust’s guide to heat pumps, take a read here.

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