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Why the UK is behind when it comes to heat pumps

It comes as no surprise that as a country, we are trying to not only become more efficient, but to make more conscious decisions when it comes to the environment. As we continue to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, this has never been more prevalent.

We have seen an increase in people switching to renewable energy providers, as well as swapping their outdated central heating radiators for electric alternatives. With that in mind, why is the UK still behind in adopting alternative methods of heating, such as heat pumps?

Keith Bastian, chief executive of renewable home heating provider Fischer Future Heat, explains what we can do to catch up with our European counterparts and how consumer attitude has a huge part to play.

A Greener Future: The Green Tax Levy

To help support a greener future and to achieve the UK’s Net Zero target, the Government plans to introduce a green tax levy to energy bills. This will cut the price of electricity and increase the cost of gas in order to fund the switch to low carbon alternatives.

Currently, we sell and install fewer heat pumps than almost anywhere else in Europe, according to recent data and research.

Some 85% of homes are heated via natural gas, and although experts agree that most will need to be converted to a heat pump, they are more expensive than gas boilers. Many homeowners are keen to support a greener future, but they simply cannot afford to do so, which is why the green tax levy is so important.

But to go green, the UK faces a huge infrastructure challenge. The problem homebuilders and government bodies are facing is the way we have historically built our homes. The 1970s era of homebuilding ignored fabric heat loss, as gas was cheap, which led to the installation of gas central heating. This building approach has put us in a big disadvantage to install heat pumps, as they are simply not suitable to retrofit into most UK homes. A house that is poorly insulated will require a larger heat pump to make up for heat loss, and this could cost more money to install and to run, raising vital questions about who will foot the bill.

Adopting a Nordic approach

Air source heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular across Europe, particularly in the likes of Norway and Sweden. By absorbing heat from the outside air to heat both homes and hot water, air source heat pumps are just one way for homeowners to make an eco-friendly decision for their home.

Unlike Britain, countries such as Sweden and Norway have adapted their properties to utilise heat pump technologies, alongside government policies which have encouraged their installation. However, their homes are far better insulated. According to the European Heat Pump Association, Norway has the highest number of heat pumps per capita, with Sweden not too far behind with 1.9 million – two rather impressive statistics.

This, ironically, is in spite of Norway exporting gas to the UK.

Nevertheless, Norway’s approach of installing heat pumps in well-insulated homes is providing a direct advantage when it comes down to cost. In fact, one town in the country, Drammen, has seen overall cost reductions of around €2m, with 1.5m tonnes of carbon emissions saved each year.

Adopting the attitudes of our Nordic counterparts is something I urge businesses, homeowners and the Government to consider and implement. The best course of action would be to provide a government-backed loan to all homeowners to improve the insulation of their homes. This loan can be tied to the home even when you sell your property. A policy such as this will ensure we are achieving our goal of Net Zero carbon by encouraging homeowners to switch to renewable alternatives.

For now, using air source pumps en masse for our homes may be a bit of a stretch, given current government policies and the way in which our houses are built. However, we can still make a difference to our homes and the environment by utilising heat pumps to efficiently heat hot water.

A Change in Consumer Attitudes

A few small changes made by everyone can lead to a huge and positive environmental impact and is something we should all make a conscious effort to be a part of.

But to do so, we must change the way we think and see things. A fine example of this is the rise of electric vehicles.

Although we have adapted to this new way of driving, many consumers refuse to change their mind-set and continue to be ‘petrol heads’.

This will continue to be the case until the Government once again forces our hand, which is beginning to be the case, with the increasing rise of petrol and diesel costs.

Electricity is the future and has been here for a long time. Despite this, consumer attitudes are yet to change, with many homeowners continuing to utilise fossil fuels on the assumption of a cheaper cost. However the price of gas has recently increased, and I believe we all have to put up with high gas prices in the future, making the need to change twofold – not only to reduce carbon but to also to save money in the long term.

Despite all of this positivity with the impending change to levies, businesses within the energy industry must come together to educate homeowners with the aim to help shift the mind-set of consumers.

For many, this won’t happen until the Government begins to force their hand. With the green tax levy set to be introduced in the not-too-distant future, this may happen sooner than we think.

12 November 2021

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