There can be no doubt that the world around us is changing. With climate concerns, fuel prices and increased cost of living, the UK faces a crisis at every turn regarding heat pumps.
In recent years, climate change, increased demands for fuel and ongoing conflict have drastically altered the familiar landscape of our energy supplies. Gas, oil and electricity have become rarer and more expensive as supply struggles and extreme weather events add to the challenges.
There is, however, one solution that could be the answer to some of the UK’s biggest energy concerns, and it comes in the form of a heat pump.
We’re looking at this technology’s vast capabilities and benefits and asking, what if every household in the UK installed a heat pump? What could it do for our climate and carbon emissions? Would it save us all money? Could it be a future-proof solution to the UK’s energy supply?
During our research, we found some surprising facts about the humble heat pump that, although it might seem like a new and fleeting technology, no doubt it will make a massive difference to our world – given the chance.
Here’s a simple way of looking at how much potential savings the UK can have if all suitable homes switched to a heat pump.
Therefore, 20,720,000 x 918.76 = £19,036,707,200 is how much the UK could save if all suitable homes switch to heat pumps.
Heat pumps are a heating system powered by air, water or geothermal energy which can heat your home. They run on electricity and are highly efficient, providing up to 3x more heat per unit of energy than the average gas boiler.
It’s a common conception that heat pumps are not suitable for every home and that it’s not an option for many people. However, as of May 2022, research done by the Electrification of Heat project has debuted this myth!
They state, “The project has not identified any particular type or age of property that cannot have a successful heat pump installation. The suggestion that particular home archetypes in Britain are “unsuitable” for heat pumps is not supported by project experience and data.”
The project concludes that for each home type for which they attempted to install a heat pump, there was always a suitable type of heat pump which would be successful. This includes high and low-temperature heat pumps, ground source heat pumps and hybrid solutions (which combine a heat pump with a boiler).
They also reported that of 743 heat pumps installed, 80% were in homes previously connected to the gas grid. Considering this, 85% of the population currently uses mains gas to heat their homes across the whole of the UK. This is an incredibly positive indication that most of the country can benefit from a heat pump.
On an individual level, perhaps the most important aspect of our need to consider heat pumps is the financial implications. Running a heat pump can significantly save energy bills, and compared to fossil-fuelled heating, the costs are considerable.
The current energy cost for the average UK home is predicted to be £4,279 per year (as of April 2023). If you install a heat pump, which replaces an old gas boiler and upgrades any old storage heaters, you can save £2,090, cutting the average energy spent by more than half.
However, yearly costs for heating your home will differ depending on what fuel you use, the size and age of the property and its insulation levels. Therefore, the amount of money you could save if you installed an air source heat pump system will vary.
To understand how much heating currently costs, we’ve looked at the average annual energy demand for a standard 2-3 bedroom home (12,000 kWh). We then multiply this by the price per unit of energy for each fossil fuel to determine an estimated total.
|Price per Unit* (pence)
|Average Annual Energy Demand
*Price per unit based on the latest fuel tariffs set in October 2022.
If we take these expenditures and compare those to the average running cost of an air source heat pump, we can begin to predict the overall savings each household could make by switching.
To heat a home with a heat pump, you need much less energy than regular systems because they are so highly efficient. Therefore, instead of 12,000 kWh, a heat pump only needs 3,086 kWh to heat a medium size home each year.
Taking the current electricity tariff of 34p/kWh (which is how heat pumps are powered), we can estimate that running a heat pump would cost £1,049.24 per year (3,086 kWh x 34p/kWh).
When we subtract this figure from the current yearly cost for fossil-fuelled heating, we can see how much can be made in savings.
|vs. Annual Heat Pump Cost
Depending on the current fuel you use to heat your home, there are savings to make by switching to an air-source heat pump. In addition, if you consider other factors around your property, such as insulation and upgrading old radiators, you can add more to those figures.
Aside from removing fossil fuels, heat pump technology enables us to get more out of our energy. As heat pumps are up to 3x more efficient than a traditional gas boiler, the saving potentials are increased. For example, a traditional gas boiler (even a new, A-rated model +) will only provide efficiency levels of 95%. Whilst that means that for every £1 you spend, you benefit from up to 95 pence worth of heat, a heat pump can provide up to 300% efficiencies. You gain more in the heat they produce for use in the home than you pay to generate it.
There is also a benefit to be had in the way heat pumps can operate alongside solar panels. If you chose to install solar panels in your home, you can generate the electricity to run a heat pump. Making the entire system renewable, self-efficient and the lowest-cost heating option available.
We know now that most of the homes in the UK are suitable for heat pumps, but why should we all be using one? One of the main reasons is to tackle climate change.
In the UK, around 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from how we heat our buildings. Burning fossil fuels, such as gas, coal and oil, is responsible for releasing harmful gases into our atmosphere, which are the direct cause of climate change and global warming.
In order to reduce the amount of harmful gases we produce, we need to remove our reliance on fossil fuels and turn to renewable sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.
With approximately 21 million households in the UK (in 2022), if just 80% of those switch from heating with natural gas to a heat pump, there would be 16.8 million households that would stop emitting harmful carbon dioxide gases into the atmosphere.
Each home in the UK emits around 2,200kg (2.2 tonnes) of carbon dioxide per year, running a gas boiler. If, in theory, every suitable home in the UK switched from a gas boiler to a heat pump, approximately 36,960,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide would be completely eliminated – it would be avoided. The damage prevention would be enormous.
Consider also that just 1 tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can lead to crop loss, damage buildings and affect human health. It would take the growth of between 50 – 80 new trees to recapture just 1 tonne – being able to avoid the enormous quantity would be the most impactful thing we could do for the planet.
It can be hard to visualise and truly understand the impact of these invisible gases in our atmosphere. Still, one other important aspect of this situation is the real, day-to-day effect energy supplies and prices are having on households across the country. Recent years have seen the everyday cost of living rise to crisis levels, and it’s all as a direct result of changes to our energy supply, demand and global events.
If every home in the UK had a heat pump, it would be beneficial not only to the health of the planet but to the wellbeing of every person. Not only would everyone be better off when the cost of living reduces, but their health will improve. The climate would stabilise, the supply and demand struggles for fossil fuels would cease, and the country would, theoretically, be a much better place for all.