Should government make it easier to fit renewable heating?

In my last piece on The Hub, I looked at why I have removed my old gas boiler and replaced it with an air source heat pump which now delivers all my heating and hot water.

For someone as passionate about our planet, it was simply the right ecological thing to do, as I explained last week.

But what are the likely costs of ‘going green’ and installing a heat pump?

And are there any incentives available to help everyone enjoy the benefits of low cost renewable heating?

To benefit the planet by reducing my carbon emissions, not use fossil fuels and reduce my annual energy bills, the technology is a no-brainer.

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer and TV presenter

Gas is gone

So, I decided not to renew my old gas boiler and instead had a new Ecodan Ultra Quiet Air Source heat pump installed.

It is an amazing bit of kit, taking heat from the outside air, even in winter, compressing that heat to increase the temperature and using it to warm up a tank of hot water to provide all of the heating I need for my radiator heating system, as well as all of the hot water I need for showers and baths.

It runs on a small amount of electricity, but I’ve made a conscious effort to switch to a green energy supplier. Ideally, I’ll have Solar Panels on my roof to power the unit. That’s my next eco step. The air-source heat pump really is fantastic piece of renewable technology that has taken years of hard work and investment from Mitsubishi Electric to perfect it.

With anything new you need to do a lot of research and do everything by the book and it is important that you know how to use the system properly. It really is about educating yourself and knowing you have to live in a slightly different way.

It is the same with my electric car. I now need to plan journeys properly, make sure I’ve charged the car properly and know where charging points are available on long distances.

I needed to learn about air-source heat pumps, how they worked and the how to operate the controls for the system to get the very best out of it. It’s a mini-education, but it really doesn’t take long.

Mighty oaks

Small changes, such as everyone using air source heat pumps throughout the entire country, will genuinely make a massive difference to Britain and as the saying goes “From little acorns do mighty oaks grow”.

I honestly believe that the current global economy will adjust to suit an ecological economy, if it is a level playing field and everyone has to meet the same high environmental design standards

From today, we need to be planting foundations for a truly sustainable future, designing and building homes that work in perfect harmony with the natural world and we need to do this not as one nation, but as One Planet … Our Planet.

How much does it cost?

Now let’s come onto the trickiest, but most important part of all of this. Money. How much does all this cost and is it worth the investment? I’m going to be brutally honest.

Firstly, when it comes to the environment it is definitely worth it. What price are we going to put on the environment?

An air source heat pump generates low carbon or even carbon free, renewable heating and that has to be a good thing. It massively reduces our need for fossil fuels, which has to be a good thing too. Of course it has to be powered by something (renewable electricity in my case) and that has a small cost to it. So, there are annual running costs, but these are significantly less than the cost of my gas bill.

So, to benefit the planet by reducing my carbon emissions, not use fossil fuels and reduce my annual energy bills the technology is a no-brainer.

The stumbling block to everyone in Britain installing an air source heat pump (and this applies to most renewable technology) is the initial capital cost of the kit and its installation.

To fully replace my old gas boiler would have cost me around £2,000-2,500 all in. To install an air source heat pump, similar to mine, with the Ultra Quiet Ecodan Unit and a water storage tank to hold enough hot water for a decent-sized 4-bedroom home with a couple of bathrooms costs around £7,000-£10,000.

Let’s be honest, that is a lot of money for people to find upfront.

7 year’s incentive payments

The government have realised this overall cost could put people off from going green, so they’ve introduced a financial subsidy called the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

If you comply with all of the criteria to qualify for the RHI scheme you could be given a payment every year of around £1,000 (*) per year from the government for 7 years, as a contribution to the costs you’ve made for adopting a green energy solution (* NOTE: Depending on your house, installation, system, etc).

So, if your installation has cost you say £7,000-£10,000 (*), then with the generous RHI payment from Her Majesty’s Government this will virtually pay off every penny that you spent investing in the new kit.  (* NOTE: Depending on your house, installation, system, etc)

In essence, you’ve got all of your money back. It’s free! Free kit and, once I’ve had my solar panels fitted, virtually free energy bills when it comes to your heating and hot water. This is absolutely amazing and is a massive boost to the renewable energy industry. All green and rosy on the ecological home front. Kind of.

First, remember you still need to fund the full capital cost of the kit and installation and not everyone has a spare £7,000-£10,000 (or more) lying around!

Secondly, (and this is what drives me mad about government red tape!) not everyone that installs an air-source heat pump will qualify for the RHI.

More encouragement needed

For self build homes, all of the boxes you need to tick to fully qualify for the RHI scheme are easy to do as your home requires a fully insulated cavity for building regulations anyway.

But, for existing homes I think the government need to assume that if someone with an existing house is going to make a substantial investment of their hard earned money on any form of renewable technology, that they would have carried out other, more affordable, improvements to the best of their ability beforehand within the constraints of the existing house.

Nobody in their right mind is going to install an air source heat pump without firstly insulating their home to the best standard possible, within those constraints, and carry out other sensible improvements such as double glazing.

The government need to change the rules and stop making things so complicated.

If anyone installs an air source heat pump they should automatically qualify for the RHI.

This will encourage the owners of our 27 million existing homes to go green, which should be a priority for the government, when you consider the factor that the number of new build homes account for less than 1% of this figure.

Only 222,000 new homes were built in the UK in the 2017-2018 financial year.

Amazing technology

An air source heat pump is genuinely amazing technology and everyone who can, should invest in one.

That goes for all house builders, housing associations and landlords. Anyone passionate about reducing fuel poverty, while creating low-carbon, sustainable homes should be installing them.

The house builders will argue that if you increase build costs through more ecological technology then they have to push up house prices. This is rubbish.

If ecological standards are increased across the board then yes build costs will go up, but that means developers will bid less for land when they tender.

The reality is that over-inflated land prices will go down rather than house prices going up, which is no bad thing.

It is about legislating for green design across the entire industry. Everyone then has to raise their game. If I were housing minister I would make air source heat pumps compulsory in all new build homes and I’d make sure they were fitted to all existing homes where people are most in need so they have free, zero-carbon heating.

If we are going to create the dramatic changes the environment needs at a time of global crisis then we need bold and brave leadership throughout our entire political and economic system.

George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter, a founder of TV production company Amazing Productions, and creative director of George Clarke + Partners. He is also the inspiration behind MOBIE an educational charity which seeks to train and inspire young people to innovate in the design and construction of HOMES in the UK and abroad.