Why we’re talking about . . .

Is it worth switching your gas boiler to a heat pump?

The government hopes to have 5.5 million heat pumps in British homes by 2030

The government has set out plans to subsidise the introduction of low-carbon heat pumps into British homes as part of its plan to cut the country’s reliance on fossil-fuel heating.

Households in England and Wales will be offered grants of £5,000 from next April to “take the edge off” the cost of installing greener heating systems as part of a three-year boiler upgrade scheme, said The Times.  

New gas-reliant boilers will be banned from UK homes by 2035. Although the government is considering “swathes” of greener alternatives to heat our homes, including the use of hydrogen boilers, the most “viable” alternative for the majority of households will be electric-powered heat pumps. 

What are heat pumps?

An electric heat pump works like “a reverse fridge, extracting warmth from the outside air, the ground or a nearby water source before concentrating the heat and transferring it indoors,” explained The Guardian.  

Heat pumps are “nothing new” said The Times, but very few are installed each year – roughly 27,000. The number of heat pumps being installed in UK homes will have to be scaled up considerably, with Boris Johnson’s climate advisors recommending that “by 2030 there should be 5.5 million heat pumps in British homes.”

Heat pumps work even when outside temperatures are very low and near freezing. They are also “much more efficient than a gas boiler” says the i news site, as they are able to produce “around three times the energy they use.” 

“Crucially, heat pumps are also clean”, said The Times. Gas-reliant boilers produce masses of carbon dioxide: the gas boilers in British homes “produce twice as much CO2 as the nation’s gas-fired power stations”, said the paper. But if we can ensure the electricity used to power heat pumps comes from “truly green sources” then “water is the only byproduct” of using a heat pump.

Are there downsides to using a heat pump?

The cost of installing a heat pump can be significant. Installing an air-source heat pump can cost anywhere between “£6,000 and £18,000, depending on the type installed and the size of a property”, said the BBC. The installation can also prove to be “difficult and expensive” added the broadcaster. For example, you may need to install “bigger radiators or dig into floors”. 

Although the government is setting aside £450m to cover the new subsidies, this will only cover the cost of replacing around 90,000 boilers.

Homes also need to be well insulated to stay warm with the use of a heat pump, which not only adds to costs but the “high levels of insulation needed” is not “always possible in older, solid-walled homes common across the UK.”

Installing a gas pump will also not necessarily save on household bills. Although heat pumps “use less energy to create the same amount of heating”, savings will be hard to come by as “electricity is currently three times the price of gas”, said Sky News

This is because “there are higher environmental levies on electricity, which adds 23% to energy bills while gas only has a levy of less than 2%”, explained the broadcaster. 

The government “had aimed to alter the subsidy system to change this”, said The Times, in order to make gas more expensive and electricity cheaper, “but the gas price crisis has meant this has been put off until next spring at the earliest.”

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