Is It Worth Buying Heat Pumps in the UK?
Look at the Trade-Offs of Buying a Heat Pump in the UK
Heat pumps are a kind of green energy being mainly used in Sweden, Switzerland and some parts of Austria when speaking about Europe. Both the EU and national governments have enacted rules and are making plans to reduce carbon emission by 2020. In order to have a clear picture of the current geothermal situation in the UK, it is interesting to look at the regulations and the challenges that heat pumps present. With the new heat and buildings strategy coming up, it is expected to further increase the installations of various heat pumps as a low carbon heating solution.
Which Factors Affect Heat Pumps Purchases?
Before looking at the English market in greater detail, it is important to look at the reasons for buying. There are different factors that account for the differences in the rate of adoption of this technology, namely:
Heat pumps work less efficient at lower temperatures
Government Policies on Energy and Environmental Issues
The government has a pivotal role in shaping the buying trends of such technologies since it can support one technology and reduce the burden of ground source and air source heat pump costs. Such actions create market distortions that are not beneficial in the long term.
The prices of the different sources of energy can affect households and make them switch to one source or another.
Availability of Competitive Energy Sources
Not only the relative prices of sources but also their availability (that also affects the price) is to be considered, as it may be better to use a source that is easy to find.
Electricity Supply and Generation Characteristics
Refers to the amount of electricity that is provided, and the amount needed to run the system.
This information is very specific to the area to be heated and they include elements such as the dimensions of the house, the position and the orientation, but also the type of insulation that are the elements on which the household makes the decision.
There may be historical reasons that make a country prefer one heating source more than another.
Geography and Geology
It is related to the housing characteristics referred above and they include specific information on the area where the property is.
For Who Is It Convenient?
This heating mode is economically convenient for:
- Households that are not using the gas network, as it is comparably more expensive to modify an existing system. It is usually being installed in new houses that don't have any system. It is much better to install the insulation and the heating in the floor from the start, as both the costs and the disruption will be lower if the installation is done earlier. Furthermore, new houses are better insulated than old ones and as already mentioned before, it helps heat pumps to work more efficiently.
- Houses owned by social landlords that see benefits in having lower running costs of heat pumps. These people might be willing to bear a higher initial cost to reap the advantages of such devices later.
Why Aren't Heat Pumps Breaking Into the UK Market?
The UK produces carbon emissions from electricity higher than the average European level. Heat pumps could represent a good alternative, but there are still some issues to consider, such as the higher price compared to other alternatives and the fact that heat pumps are not the most effective alternative currently, as they produce more carbon dioxide than the other heating fuels. Producers are, however, striving to improve these devices and put them on the same level as competitive energy sources.
Furthermore, there are some conditions to be met in order for heat pumps to be considered as a real option to decrease carbon dioxide emissions:
low carbon electricity supply
low temperature household heat
What Did the EU and the English Government Provide For?
In 2009, the EU passed a directive aiming for dramatic reductions of carbon emissions by 2020. Both air source and ground source heat pumps are included in the plan as long as they produce more energy than they consume.
In the UK the government provided for a renewable energy policy that aimed at increasing and promoting the use of renewable resources. However, after the EU directive, the English government promoted another incentive scheme, called the Renewable Heat Incentive that pays back some money to people who install devices powered by renewable energy. You can read more about it and other initiatives at Green Energy Tariffs Vol 1 and Vol 2.
Are Heat Pumps Worth it? Showing Two Sides of the Same Coin
There is no general agreement on heat pumps, as the topic is always being debated upon since there are both upsides and downsides related to this technology.
Although the disadvantages seem to be greater than the positive sides, heat pump trials have shown the benefits of installing heat pumps. The results of these trials underline that:
- Customers are satisfied with heat and hot water provided through such devices
- No significant differences in the performance of ground and air source heat pumps
- The performance is also dependent on the installation and the behaviour of the buyer so that these variables can lead to different outcomes
- The buyers need to be instructed as to how to use such devices in a clear and simple manner, so they do not start having the feeling that this technology is too complicated.
- On the energy-saving side, it has been shown that well-installed heat pumps release less carbon dioxide with respect to electric or gas heating
- There have been cost reductions for households not being on the gas grid.
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