What’s the Situation with Heat Pumps in the UK Now?

The heating system stock in the UK currently largely relies on oil, LPG and mains gas systems. But with the increasing need to curb the dependence on fossil fuels and find renewable alternatives for heating homes and businesses, the popularity of heat pumps are definitely on the rise, with market growth predicted to double by 2025.

Air Source Heat Pump

Heat Pump systems have so far been adopted at a slower pace in the UK compared to other parts of Europe where they are much more popular. This is largely due to the fact that the government only recently started to implement a number of new schemes making the transition to green living smoother and more affordable. These initiatives, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) have now caught the attention of the British population, and are subsequently increasing the popularity of this renewable energy technology.

Research indicates that the UK heat pump market is likely to double by 2025.

In fact, recent research from Delta Energy and Environment indicates that the UK heat pump market is likely to double by 2025. Increased uptake in heat pumps in the new build market will be the main driver for this growth, after last year’s announcement that fossil fuel heating will not be installed in any new homes built after 2025. But the general public and businesses in the UK are also now beginning to realise the benefits of heat pumps as an efficient and cost-effective renewable energy technology.

So, what is a heat pump?

In simple terms, a heat pump is a device that transfers heat from an external source (such as the heat in the ground or air) to another location (such as the hot water system or central heating in a house). For example, air source heat pumps (ASHPs) absorb heat from the outside air. This heat can then be used to heat radiators, underfloor heating systems, or warm air convectors and hot water in your home.

An ASHP works a bit like a refrigerator in reverse. The process consists of an evaporator, a compressor and a condenser. The ASHP absorbs heat from the outside air into a liquid at a low temperature, then the heat pump compressor increases the temperature of that heat. In the condenser, the hot liquid’s heat is transferred to your heating and hot-water circuits so you can use it to warm up your home.

Air source heat pumps provide many benefits, including:

  • Lower fuel bills, especially if you are replacing conventional electric heating, LPG or oil.
  • Additional income through the UK government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)
  • Lower carbon emissions, depending on which fuel you are replacing
  • Much safer than combustion based heating systems
  • Versatility to heat your home as well as your water
  • Minimal maintenance required
  • Long life span, and a reliable and steady source of heat

What about the efficiency of heat pumps?

Heat pumps represent the most efficient alternative to oil, LPG and electric systems for both heating and cooling. Mains gas boilers do a relative good job, rated close to 98 per cent efficient, however they do not represent a long term solution from a carbon footprint aspect.

An air source heat pump system will help to lower your carbon footprint as it uses a renewable, natural source of heat – air. The amount of CO2 you’ll save depends on the fuel you are replacing. For example, the figure will be higher if you are replacing electric heating rather than natural gas. A heat pump also requires a supplementary source of power, usually electricity, to power the heat pump, so there will still be some resulting CO2 emissions, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

High Efficiency Means Saving Money

In comparison to fossil fuel boilers, heat pumps are vastly superior in terms of efficiency. They supply more heating than the amount of electricity used to run them.

Properly designed and installed heat pumps regularly attain more than 300 per cent efficiency.

The efficiency of an air source heat pump is measured by the Coefficient of Performance (COP). This refers to the maximum efficiency with which the heat pump can run. Most air source heat pumps, have a COP between 2 to 4, but in some cases, it can be as high as 5 (especially if underfloor heating is installed).

The COP refers to how many kilowatts of heat 1 kilowatt of electricity can produce. An air source heat pump with a COP of 4 will produce 4 kilowatts of heat. Meaning the heat pump will provide you with four times more heat than if you would heat your home using electricity.

If the temperatures outside of a house are around 7 degrees Celsius, the average air source heat pump will have a COP of 3.2. In most parts of the UK, the average temperature is between 5 – 8 degrees Celsius. This means an air source heat pump will generally perform well in the UK, but will also provide a good source of heat at extreme temperatures, operating in conditions as low as -20 degrees.

What are the costs of Heat pumps?

Air source heat pump with new cylinder prices range between £7,000 and £11,500 installed, depending on the specific type, size and water usage that you require. It’s also important to note that when you invest in a heat pump system, you have to take into account the possibility of radiator upgrades.

Having said that, an air source heat pump is both efficient and affordable. It is more expensive than a fossil fuel system, but if you decide to install an air source heat pump, you will be eligible to receive government support via the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

This incentive was established in April 2014 to help the UK government meet environmental goals and targets by supporting domestic and commercial energy consumers to install renewable energy systems. It is designed to help offset the cost of installing (usually covering most of the install cost).

Air source heat pumps are both efficient and affordable, especially as they are eligible for Government support payments via the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

For domestic users, the RHI provides quarterly payments for seven years if qualifying renewable technologies are installed. Visit the UK Government website for more detailed information – https://www.gov.uk/domestic-renewable-heat-incentive

What about the future outlook?

Heat pump advantages clearly indicate that they represent a smart investment in the long run. Given that the running costs bring many savings on your energy bills, and the government assists you in your transition towards a green energy solution, heat pumps are absolutely worth it. You might be concerned about the larger upfront costs, but simultaneously you also need to see the bigger picture with lower running costs, RHI payments and a reduced carbon footprint. If you consider additional renewable energy solutions such as Solar PV in addition to heat pumps, you are well on your way along the path to zero net energy.

Heat pump advantages clearly indicate that they represent a smart investment in the long run.

Experts in this field agree that the installation of heat pumps in the UK will experience a rapid growth in the coming years, mostly driven by the efficiency ratings and complimented by the RHI tariff. But there is a noticeable shift in public opinion and awareness of environmental issues, which is also driving increases in the size of the heat pump industry in the UK. That is not only engaging UK companies, but also foreign companies (most of them very experienced ones from continental Europe) that will help to raise standards and will contribute to a more dynamic heating market in the UK.