Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

TV presenter George Clarke explains why fitting a heat pump was the right ecological thing to do

I’m passionate about our planet. I’m lucky enough to have travelled to some of the most magical parts of the world and I’m blown away by the beauty of Mother Nature . But, I’ve also come to realise how the natural world is so finely balanced and how it doesn’t take much for mankind to destroy such beauty.

We have been born into a very specific point in history where mankind have realised the importance of ecology. Of course the general appreciation of the natural world has been in existence for thousands of years, but it was only in the late 20th century that the penny dropped; the way we are living on the planet is causing horrendous devastation that may, in some cases, be irreversible.

We, as people, are responsible for the destruction of the planet. 

I don’t feel proud of this. I don’t feel proud that in 1971, just 3 years before I was born, the word ‘ecology’ entered world politics. It is a word that has become commonplace simply because we are destroying the earth.

Fitting a heat pump is a decision I made because it was the right ecological thing to do

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer and TV presenter

The urgent need

In 1971 UNESCO launched a research programme called ‘Man and Biosphere’. Then, in the 1980’s and 90’s the words ‘Biological Diversity’ or ‘Biodiversity’ became commonly used in the media when the frightening risks associated with the reduction in global biodiversity started to be understood.

In 1992 there was the first ever ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro and then in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol, both of which were a wake up call for the planet, where nations realised that the dramatic changes in climate, caused by our disregard for the natural environment, had to be tackled on a global scale.

I was born in 1974. All of this has happened in my lifetime. I was brought up breathing in the toxins from leaded fuel, we always used aerosol cans that contains CFCs that depleted the ozone layer, I’ve seen building construction boom at the most alarming rate using materials that are detrimental to our ecosystem, I’ve witnessed first hand the mass destruction of our rainforests, which is heartbreaking and soul destroying

Time for change

All of this craziness has happened while the global population has nearly doubled from 4 billion, when I was born in ‘74, to well over 7 billion people today. There are simply too many people on the planet, with most of us living in a way that is wrecking the Earth. Add to that the fact that our globalised economy is completely based on the concept of ‘growth’, more people to make more money that require more space, more homes, more food, more cars and more stuff! I’m afraid the planet simply can’t cope with that. The global ‘economy’ has been put ahead of global ‘ecology’.

We have got our priorities completely wrong and it is time for change. Not tomorrow, not in the future, but now and it needs to be done on a MASSIVE SCALE!

Governments need to step up to the plate and instigate enormous change. We have a simple choice to make. We either decide to live in a very different way going back to a medieval world of no cars, no planes, no global food system, no technology and no global trading of goods  (which lets face is just never going to happen) or we invest and innovate in green technology to make our cars, planes, food, homes and everything else we need the greenest products ever imaginable. Products that work in harmony with nature rather than destroy it.

Global corporations, big business and global organisations need to do this. It is up to them to put ecology at the very top of the global agenda. If governments and big business instigate positive ecological and environmental change then that will filter down to every single one of us. It’s the product designers, the manufacturers, the financiers, the energy companies, the mining corporations, the transport companies, global industry and governments that needs to change to make the economic system work in an ecological way. Leaders must lead and set out the environmental stall for us to be able to follow. 

This may overly ambitious, but if the entire system changes we can do it.

We have to do it!

Make a difference 

Of course, as individuals, we can do our own bit to make a difference. We can make a moral and personal choice to be green and eco friendly and we should all try our best to be as green as possible. If we all took bold and brave steps to change our way of life, in the everyday day things that we do, then there would be the critical mass needed for positive change to happen.

But, as the global economy pushes developing countries hard to ‘grow’ and capitalise on their natural resources, for every person in the the affluent world who decides to go green, there will be many more people in poorer countries who have no green agenda at all.

I’ve decided I want to BE GREEN, but even in the developed western world its not easy. Yes, I could get rid of my car, never fly anywhere, never take the train, eat nothing but green leaves grown in my own garden and live in a mud hut with no heating or electricity, but let’s be realistic, this just isn’t going to happen. I need to travel for my work, so I’m dependent on the airline or the train operator to be green for me. It’s a service i genuinely need to use, but I can’t change how they operate environmentally.

But, where I can make a personal change I’ve decided to do that.

I’ve changed my diesel car and I’ve gone fully electric. I’ve removed my inefficient and ecologically unfriendly gas boiler and I’ve installed an air source heat pump. I’ve super insulated my house. I use triple A-rated appliances. I’m obsessive about turning off lights when leaving a room and even using a minimal number of lights when I’m in the room. I eat organic, British food as much as i can and my energy is from an ecological supplier, but still there is so much more I should be doing. I’m giving it my best shot.

But, I will say this. I’m shocked by the level of criticism I’ve had through social media for attempting to go green. For every positive comment I’ve had there have been at least 30 comments giving me stick. Some of the comments I couldn’t write here and to be honest I wouldn’t even want to acknowledge them. But, the most common criticism (and I’m toning this down) is “its alright for you can afford it...what about the rest of us?”

The wrong approach

In some ways this is a fair point. Going green isn’t cheap and I’m very lucky to have a well-paid job. I’m thankful for that everyday.

But, its important to understand the economics of any new technology. Innovation isn’t cheap. Every new and innovative product in any industry starts out life being expensive, because they require a huge amount of R+D and the companies that make them initially sell a very low number of units.

I remember my Dad buying a new Betamax video player in the early 1980’s and it was nearly £250 (so much money back then!) but today you can buy a very good DVD player, packed with so much more technology than the Betamax, for less than £30. That is progress. As technology gets better the prices of products reduce. My electric car wasn’t cheap, because Jaguar have had to invest massively in the new technology and they currently sell a low number of electric cars.

My new air-source heat pump to heat all of the hot water and the radiators for my home costs more to buy and install than a cheap combination gas boiler, but it is a decision I made because it was the right ecological thing to do.

If those with means don’t invest in the early years of green and sustainable eco products, then they will never be affordable for anyone.

Over the years, from a few small seeds, demand will grow, companies will recognise the rising demand, they will continue to invest in the technology, the products themselves will get better and better and the more popular those products become the cheaper they will be for everyone. In 20 years time we should all be driving electric cars and we should all have air source heat pumps because those with means invested in them in their early years when they were more expensive.

It is worth analysing in more detail the air-source heat pump I’ve had fitted onto my existing house.

My old gas boiler worked, but it wasn’t particularly efficient. I could have kept it for at least another 5-7 years, but I’m tired of ever increasing gas bills and i wanted to install low-carbon technology into my home. Very few of us have our gas boiler regularly checked. The parts get old and inefficient and we continue to use it until it breaks down. We try and get it repaired, but often its cheaper to take it out and install a new one as the old parts are so far gone.

It also runs on gas and its a fact that we are going to run out of gas at some point. Also, our energy bills are expensive and they won’t be getting any cheaper. Millions of people in the UK are now living in fuel poverty and that is a massive problem when we are supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world. Something is fundamentally wrong.

I was a bit nervous

With my Ecodan the first thing I did was have an approved Ecodan installer come to the house and work out exactly what system I needed for my home to suit the needs of myself and my family. Everything from the specification of the unit itself, the correct sized water storage tank and the right location for all of the kit was critical and the installer really new his stuff.

I’ll be honest and say I was a bit nervous about it. I’d never personally used the technology before and I was worried I’d be in big trouble with the rest of the house if there was no heating or hot water. There were, of course, a couple of minor teething problems, one of them was a ‘user problem’ because the cleaner put the mobile thermostat in a warm cupboard so the system thought my house needed no heating. The other problem was with a valve, that was restricting the water pressure, which the installer soon corrected after a quick phone call.

What was important was for me was to fully understand the system and how to use it. We are all frightened of any new technology and quite often our frustration with anything new comes about because we’ve not taken the time to learn about something new. That’s frustration often results in us shouting phrases like “why is it so complicated” or “this is rubbish”. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with the Ecodan.

After learning and understanding the system controls I have to say it is a walk in the park to operate.


Support system

As a back up Mitsubishi Electric has a fantastic helpline and technical support. You are put through to a member of the support team in the head office (yes a real person) who really know their stuff. I’ve seen it in action first hand. If you call them there is an expert engineer who can talk you through any problems. They are there for customers like you and me, but they are also there to support approved installers too. They even have a technical room within walking distance of their desks full of all Ecodan products so they can physically stand by the same product as yours to take you through all the troubleshooting options.

But, Mitsubishi Electric’s ability to help you goes much further than just a phone call. They have a service called MELConsole which is operated through the MELCloud app.

Don’t be freaked out by the phrases and the technology. It’s actually really simple. Your system is set up so that you yourself can control everything remotely from the App, so you can change the settings of your system when you are away on holiday or at work to make it more energy efficient (there is no point in your heating system coming on at 5pm if something happens at work and you aren’t going to get home until 10pm).

But, this remote access also allows an Ecodan expert at the end of the helpline to access your system remotely too.

The advantages of this are amazing as the expert can have full remote control of your system to change settings, find any problems and correct them. Obviously, if the problem is due to a faulty part, they can soon work this out and send an engineer to your home to replace it. This amazing remote access technology saves so much time, effort and stress. It is absolutely brilliant.

For those of you that prefer a good old brochure there is a homeowner brochure online, which gives you a step by step guide to the benefits of installing your first air source heat pump.

Small changes

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.

For my next post, I will be looking at the cost of installing a heat pump and the financial incentives that the government has put in place to encourage us to adopt renewable heating. Are they enough?

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.