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James Chaplen explores the opportunities presented by heat pumps

Wherever you look at the moment, you can see the effects of the climate crisis, whether that’s devasting floods or forest fires, tropical diseases such as malaria heading our way, or empty drought-ridden fields and warnings to holiday makers to stay out of the sun.

The UK Met Office has also recently announced that last year’s 40°C record breaking temperatures will now be considered ‘cool’ for future predictions in 2100, providing further evidence of the harm that the climate crisis is bringing.

These are all further indicators of the urgent action needed to combat global warming. The installation of heat pumps for residential properties, accompanied by lower energy usage, as part of a wider net zero strategy, should be part of this action plan.

The commitment to hold global temperatures to no higher than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is an ambitious but attenable target that nations at COP have already set.

To achieve this, the UK is looking to transition towards a low-carbon future where every sector of society must play its part in getting there.

It’s not only emissions from petrol and diesel cars, or gas and coal-fired power stations, that warm our planet. Household heating accounts for a significant portion of the UK's carbon emissions and adopting heat pumps offers a solution to reduce the country’s carbon footprint while ensuring comfortable and sustainable living conditions.

Homes are responsible for approximately 17% of total carbon emissions.

James Chaplen James Chaplen Head of Product Marketing and Communications

Decarbonising home heating

While the government has set in to law a legally binding target to reach net zero by 2050, it has not officially committed to decarbonising home heating through legislation. That makes the move away from high-carbon emitting fossil-fuel fired boilers to more renewable forms of heating more difficult – and that makes reaching net zero more challenging.

In the UK, residential properties are responsible for approximately 17% of total carbon emissions. The primary culprit is conventional heating systems that heavily rely on fossil fuels like natural gas. Gas boilers release substantial amounts of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), into the atmosphere, exacerbating the climate crisis. Addressing this issue requires a shift towards more sustainable housing and heating alternatives.

Developers with an eye for the future and environment are building net zero homes designed to minimise energy consumption while maximising energy production through renewable sources. This is achieved with energy-efficient features, such as good levels of insulation, triple glazing and smart energy management systems. And by installing solar panels and batteries to generate electricity for heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points.

Understanding heat pumps

Heat pumps are a highly efficient heating technology that extracts heat from the natural environment – either from the air, ground, or water. It’s a tried and tested technology that goes back to the mid-1850s.

Air Source Heat Pumps, such as Mitsubishi Electric’s Ecodan units, take heat from the air to provide space heating and hot water. Popular in Europe, including Nordic countries, they work in temperatures of -20°C.

With a heat pump there is no burning of fossil fuels, such as in a gas or oil-fired boiler. Hence, they are a vital part of the solution to reach net zero. By switching to heat pumps, households can play a crucial role in reducing the UK's overall carbon footprint, contributing to national climate goals.

In addition to this, heat pumps are three times more efficient than conventional gas guzzling boilers. In a cost-of-living crisis and with fuel security concerns, cash conscious households that have seen their energy costs rise in a volatile oil and gas market, will find this very attractive.

As sustainable practices become increasingly valued, properties equipped with eco-friendly features like heat pumps are likely to gain a competitive edge in the real estate market enhancing their value.

Getting to net zero

The government recognises the role of heat pumps in contributing to its net zero goal. It has set a target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. Currently only around 60,000 are installed annually.  There is much to do and the government has the instruments to accelerate the growth of their installation.

Government should take the following four measures to support households and businesses in the transition to decarbonise and achieve net zero:

  1. Support, incentivise and encourage households to insulate their homes so to use less energy. Government should run public information campaigns and provide households with information to create greater awareness for the need to reduce energy demand and so lower household bills – insulating homes is a primary method of achieving that.
  2. Decouple the cost of electricity from gas. While the price of electricity is pegged to the cost of gas, and dependent upon its demand and supply, it will remain at risk of continued price hikes which is not the making of its suppliers. Generating electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, supports the argument for energy security.
  3. Set a legally binding end-date for the installation of all fossil fuel fired boilers (not a phasing out). This will be a similar position to that taken by government banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Just like the car industry and market has adjusted, so the heating market and industry will adapt to an end date of installing fossil fuel fired boilers.
  4. Support training of more heat pump installers. As the demand for heat pumps increases, so more installers are needed. Government should support young people to train in this growing green business, and encourage existing plumbers, electricians and heat engineers to upgrade their skills to install heat pumpers.

Adopting heat pumps can play a pivotal role in steering us away from global warming.

By reducing our carbon footprint, enhancing energy efficiency, and contributing to a cleaner environment, heat pumps offer an essential solution for a sustainable future. Government incentives and support, coupled with increasing awareness of the need for environmentally friendly practices, can accelerate the transition to heat pumps, ensuring a greener and more resilient UK.

James Chaplen, Head of Product Marketing and Communications