HomeLow carbon futureHow to switch the UK on to heat pumps

How to switch the UK on to heat pumps

heat pumpHeat is responsible for a third of carbon emissions and around half of the energy we use in the UK. Whilst there is a range of views about how to achieve the deep cuts needed in carbon emissions from heating, all future scenarios indicate that there will have to be a significant rise in the uptake of heat pumps.

The government has introduced financial assistance to help people to switch to heat pumps in the non-domestic sector and payments for householders are eagerly awaited after a series of delays. However there are a number of non-financial barriers to people changing their heating systems, and financial incentives alone aren’t enough to get most people to switch.

In the new heat pump presentation we launch today we argue that the government needs to do more than just offer financial incentives. It now needs to use regulation and improve the reputation of heat pumps.

1. Use clever regulation  The mass adoption of condensing boilers was stimulated by regulation ruling out inefficient non-condensing boilers. A similar policy should be implemented to drive the uptake of low carbon heating options like heat pumps. Boiler regulations need to switch from efficiency ratings to rating carbon emissions. Regulation should be targeted first at the owners of  properties without access to the gas grid, who stand to make big gains from switching to heat pumps. Early signalling of this regulation will enable industry and consumers to plan and adapt. Getting new build right is also important. Stronger standards are needed to ensure that lower carbon heating options, like heat pumps, are fitted in preference to conventional gas boilers.

2  Improve the reputation of heat pumps Heat pumps in the UK haven’t performed as well as in other countries. They have suffered from poor quality technology, poor installation and haven’t been used properly by building occupants, leading to higher energy bills and horror stories. Whilst much has been done to improve the standard of the heat pumps and their installation, it is not enough. Heat pumps need to be properly monitored, and subsidy should be based on performance. Standards should require installers to train people in how to work them properly and sub-standard installers should lose their certification.

Without these actions it is unlikely that we will achieve the roll out of millions of heat pumps that is required. The real risk is that efforts to reduce carbon emissions from heat will stall if the UK stays locked into heating systems that will never be low carbon enough.

Written by

Rachel Cary leads Green Alliance's low carbon energy theme.