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Home heating in the UK: From boilers to heat pumps

Home heating in the UK: From boilers to heat pumps

The Heat and Buildings Strategy, published in October 2021 by the UK government, announced a phased approach to the decarbonisation of home heating across the UK.

Currently, heating amounts to a third of our total carbon emissions from the burning of fossils to fuel our collective heating system. In order to meet the legally binding net-zero by 2050 target, outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the government must act quickly to accelerate a clean-energy transition that includes everyone. Therefore it must be accessible to all households and supply affordable energy beyond its implementation.

This will not be easy since emerging technologies, i.e heat pumps, are not yet competitive against the traditional heating market. Even when it becomes time to replace your heating system, the cost of a new boiler is far less than the system overhaul involved in heat pump installation and running costs. 

Gas boiler ban 

Part of the Heat and Buildings Strategy will involve an eventual ban of gas and oil fuelled boiler installations by 2025 in newbuild homes. Therefore, this ban will not include pre-existing fossil-fuelled systems, at least in its initial enforcement. 

Instead, by the time gas boilers need to be replaced, the cost of heat pumps will be significantly reduced through market-wide measures that will improve production efficiency across the supply chain. The government will encourage this through a policy framework that incentives boiler and heat pump manufacturers to innovate the industry such as by increasing the efficiency of installations and standardising training practices across the workforce. 


Why heat pumps? 

Put simply, a heat pump works by transferring heat from the ground, the air, or a water source (depending on the type of heat pump) into your home. They also do the reverse as a cooling system. They can achieve an efficiency rate of up to 600% since they require only a small amount of electricity to function but provide comparatively ample heat. 

This puts heat pumps at the top of priorities in terms of sustainable energy solutions since, next to gas boilers, they require around four times less energy. They also produce no emissions during their operation. This has local benefits since they won’t create any air pollution. 


Reducing the cost of electricity 

Heat pumps are powered by electricity, which is partially provided by fossil sources. The cost of electricity in the UK is continually susceptible to market spikes from global supply-demand shocks. Therefore, bringing down the cost of electricity is crucial to increasing the uptake of heat pumps, as well as improving the standard of living currently under intense pressure from a crippling cost-of-living crisis. 

Currently, the overall cost of a heat pump is significantly affected by its running costs, accounting for 55%-65% of their lifetime cost according to findings from the charity Nesta. 

However, electricity is increasingly provided using renewable sources, which provide the cheapest available electricity source. The government has promised to expand the supply of domestic renewables five times over. This would bring down the running costs of heat pumps while also generating a sustainable energy market. 


Plan of action 

Currently, the UK is far behind the European average when it comes to the number of heat pumps installed. However, the government is invested in their widespread adoption, with intentions to increase domestic heat pump installations to 600,000 per year till 2028. Since the market is still in relative infancy, the government plans to increase the scale of early adopters through financial incentives. 

This includes the Boiler Upgrade Scheme in England which offers £5,000-£6,000 off the cost of heat pumps, subject to eligibility. The government also slashed VAT on energy-saving technology in April this year. These schemes help to bring down the upfront costs of heat pumps and other low-carbon heating solutions, such as biomass boilers, to compete with the costs of a new boiler.

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