The climate technocrats’ posturing over heat pumps will be expensive, impractical and invasive.
Few people will have ever seen a heat pump – a key piece of tech which the UK is counting on in our trillion-pound pursuit of ‘Net Zero’ carbon emissions. A new 1,000-page report by Lord Deben’s carbon quango, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), claims that heat pumps are a ‘critical technology for decarbonising space heating’.
Back in its June report, the CCC conceded that heat pumps would be ‘the heating solution in fewer than 200,000 homes’. Despite thousands of pounds of subsidies being made available since 2011, only 30,000 units are currently being installed each year – just two per cent of the 1.5million replacement boilers sold annually. In fact, there have been just 16million heat pumps installed in the entire world, across all sorts of buildings – not just homes.
But under the CCC’s ‘Balanced Net Zero Pathway’ scenario, it predicts that by 2030, no fewer than 5.5million heat pumps will be in British homes: 2.2million in new homes and, significantly, almost 3.3million retrofitted in old homes.
There are broadly two sorts of heat pumps: ground-source (GSHPs) and air-source (ASHPs). Both extract heat from outside homes – by boring into the earth, which gets warmer the deeper one goes, or by pulling heat from the air, which works even in freezing winters. Both are powered by a modest amount of electricity. But, apart from the fossil fuels partly bound up with the electricity generation, both also eliminate the CO2 that conventional gas boilers emit. And, given the right kind of home insulation, some types of heat pumps are, in principle, cheaper to run than boilers.
So, why haven’t consumers been making the switch? The cons are considerable. They are hugely costly to set up: costing £10,000 to £15,000 for GSHPs, digging and installation included. You can pay up to £11,000 for the AHSP unit, plus another £3,000 to £11,000 for installation. At the moment there are very few engineers trained to perform the tricky installation. In fact, 90 per cent of UK heating-systems engineers cannot even properly put in and start modern condensing gas boilers, despite the fact that they have been mandatory for 15 years. There will have to be a huge uptick in training if we are to come anywhere near the CCC’s targets for heat-pump installations.
The ground-source pumps are a non-starter for most consumers as you would really need to own your own land to have one installed. For the air-source pumps, which are aimed at the retrofitting market, the running costs are actually higher than regular boilers. And compared with GSHPs, ASHPs are not nearly as durable or easy to maintain. You will also need to buy new, bigger radiators and will have to wait a fair time for the pump to warm up on cold mornings. And you will need to accept noise levels akin to those of air-conditioners, which will be nasty in the winter, particularly when they will need to run right through the night.
Of course, current costs aren’t everything. New technologies tend to fall in cost over the years – even in the low-productivity environment we find ourselves in. But the CCC’s new report forecasts only a snail’s-paced 30 per cent reduction in the cost of heat pumps over the next 30 years.