Eco Innovation

Heat pumps play a vital role in UK decarbonisation

16th May 2023
Harry Fowle

The environmental benefits of heat pumps are certainly not news to anyone – or at least, they shouldn’t be, least of all for businesses looking to both reduce costs and deliver on their ESG goals. These pumps are renowned for being the most cost-effective form of electricity-based heating, making them less expensive to run and more environmentally friendly.

One of the lessons the cost-of-living crisis has taught us is that energy efficiency makes a difference when it comes to saving on energy costs, meaning high energy efficiency ratings play a role in lowering electricity bills for both households and businesses, making heat pumps a compelling option.

In our ongoing battle to reduce our carbon footprint, systems that use electricity to run (and only a small amount) as opposed to burning high amounts of fuel should be regarded as the obvious path to follow. However, growth in the implementation of these systems has been slower than expected in the UK. Here, Brian Imrie, Managing Director of adi Facilities Engineering, explores the reasons behind this.

The UK Government recognises that heat pumps are essential to reducing carbon emissions across the nation, and has outlined plans to increase installations from 55,000 a year (in 2021) to 600,000 by 2028. The Government aims for the UK’s heat pump market to become one of the largest in Europe and has implemented a number of policies and schemes to facilitate investment, including the Boiler Upgrade System and the Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition.

Nevertheless, the transition to this technology has been relatively slow, in spite of evidence showing that most homes and businesses in the UK are suitable for heat pumps. So, what’s stopping people from investing? Historically, the cost has been the biggest deterrent. With the price of gas having been lower in the past when compared to that of electricity, many are – wrongly – concerned about running costs. Data shows that where correctly specified, efficient heat pumps have similar running costs to gas boilers, and even more so since the onset of the energy crisis. And with heat pumps lasting much longer than gas systems, you won’t have to think about a replacement for years. Ultimately, the pumps pay for themselves in just a few years, and are able to generate substantial annual savings for their owners after that, particularly if energy prices continue to rise faster than electricity – for instance, air-source heat pumps need three times less energy than a gas boiler to do exactly the same job, and figures for other types of heat pumps are largely similar.

Regulatory uncertainty doubtlessly plays a role too, with many unsure as to how reliable the Government’s programmes are from a financial aid viewpoint long-term and some being unaware that these schemes exist and are viable options altogether. Nevertheless, as the Government continues to invest significant time and resources into initiatives designed to help the nation meet its net zero by 2050 goal, there is likely to be increased investment into relevant programmes and initiatives. This is quite simply the direction we are heading towards, as is epitomised by the upcoming ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles, the 2025 gas boiler ban for new homes, or the uplift in energy efficiency standards for new buildings, just to name a few.

Of course, many are discouraged by the overall uncertainty stemming from and adopting new technology they fear to be premature, being more likely to wait for it to evolve further and potentially become cheaper or more widely available before being willing to test it. However, businesses can’t afford to be left behind, and to hesitate to make what are proven to be effective changes to reduce their carbon footprint – changes that are going to be invaluable in the long term as our efforts to safeguard our planet continue to intensify. What’s more, it is a proven fact that renewable systems such as heat pumps significantly increase the value of a building – again a significant help in the long term. The benefits of investing in commercial heat pumps are not negligible, and the sooner we embrace this new technology, the easier it will be to reap its benefits.

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