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HA Magazine’s Joe Bradbury provides an update on what we’ve learned so far when it comes to heat pumps

We’ve come a long way since Peter von Rittinger built the first heat pump in 1856.

Today heat pumps are considered the most efficient and cost effective form of heating in the market place. They are remarkably environmentally friendly and can drastically reduce both your carbon footprint and your your energy bills.

In winter, most UK residents still keep warm using gas central heating. A 2019 survey conducted by the UK Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) found that 85% of respondents used this method of heating. The next most common heating source was electric, with a combined share of 5%.

As part of an effort to reduce carbon emissions in the UK, government advisors have rightly called for low carbon heating to replace gas in all new homes built after 2025.

Alongside environmental concerns, there are around 1.4 to 2 million households in England now classed as being in fuel poverty. Needless to say, it is of vital importance that we ensure heating methods are both efficient and affordable.

We need to upskill the industry fast to meet demand

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Digital Editor for HA magazine

Environmental concern

Considering our small size, you may be shocked to hear that the UK currently produces around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions – making it the 8th largest emitter in the world. According to the Carbon Trust, nearly 50% of the CO2 emissions produced by the UK come from heating and cooling buildings.

Scientists agree that the earth’s rising temperatures are fuelling longer and hotter heat waves, more frequent droughts, heavier rainfall, and more powerful storms. The impacts of global warming are already being felt across the globe.

Extreme heat waves have caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world in recent years (more than COVID-19!). Antarctica has been losing about 134 billion metric tons of ice per year since 2002. This rate could speed up if we keep burning fossil fuels at our current pace, causing sea levels to rise several meters over the next 50 to 150 years.

This would cause untold devastation on our forests, farms, and cities, and the loss of both human and animal life would be astronomical.

Gas vs electric

Air source heat pumps are used to provide heat and hot water for dwellings. They run on electricity, but are incredibly efficient (in some cases 300% or more), which means that for every one unit of electricity used, they produce 3 units of useful heat.

If you compare that to a brand new gas boiler which is 90-95% efficient (1 unit of gas produces 0.9-0.95 units of useful heat), you can quickly see why these systems are so popular.

In fact, if you don’t have access to mains gas, heat pumps are definitely the way to go to fulfil your heating and hot water requirements – provided you have a well-insulated home.

Better still, if you decide to install an air source heat pump in your home, you can also benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive, which pays you for each unit of hot water water you produce. The Renewable Heat Incentive was extended last month and will now run until 31st March 2022.

Air source heat pumps are more efficient than traditional heating such as gas or oil central heating or electric heaters. For every kilowatt of electricity you pay for, you get 3 kilowatts of heat output.

In summary

It’s clear to see that renewables will plan an increasingly important role in our future.

The Government’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (announced in November last year) was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for humanity. The plan included a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

In order to make this happen, we will need around 26,000 qualified installers. However, at present there are fewer than 1,000 MCS installers nationwide – nowhere near enough to deliver 600,000 units per year.

If newly-built homes will need to be heated without fossil fuel heating from 2023, we need to upskill the industry fast to meet demand. The clock is ticking.

Joe Bradbury is Digital Editor for HA magazine