HEAT PUMPS? I fear they’ll end up as a minority sport for the well-to-do
Noisy. Ugly. Horribly pricey...
WHEN the Government announced details of a new scheme in late 2021, designed to turn our homes into oases of greenness, it did not hold back on how transforming it would be — mega transformative.
Boris Johnson, at the time in situ at No 10, was positively enthused. ‘As we clean up the way we heat our homes over the next decade,’ he said, ‘we are backing our brilliant innovators to make clean technology like heat pumps as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers, supporting thousands of green jobs.’
Kwasi Kwarteng, the then Business and Energy Secretary, wasn’t far behind in the enthusiasm stakes.
‘As the technology improves and costs plummet over the next decade,’ he trilled, ‘we expect low-carbon heating systems will become the obvious, affordable choice for consumers.’
Yet, as is often the way with Government initiatives designed by out- oftouch civil servants (no doubt working from home), the £450 million ‘ Boiler Upgrade Scheme’ (BUS) has so far flattered to deceive.
Indeed, it has been a monumental damp squib. So far, consumer take up has been modest (a kind description).
Of the £150 million of grants (issued in the form of vouchers) available in the current tax year, less than £50 million have been taken by homeowners.
Come the new tax year in April, a further £150 million of grants will be available, but any funding not used in the current tax year will be lost for ever. It will simply go back into the Treasury’s coffers.
Barring a modern-day miracle, the scheme will be more ‘ low grade’ than ‘upgrade’. It’s modest in scope ( so say the climate activists) — and even more modest in terms of take-up.
On the surface, the BUS looks attractive. Homeowners get a £5,000 grant if they replace their gas boiler with an environmentally friendly air source heat pump — £6,000 if a ground source heat pump is preferred. Yet air source pumps are unsightly (they sit on an outside wall and look like an air conditioning unit). They are also noisy as hell.
Ground source pumps require yards and yards of underground pipes to be laid underneath gardens. But by requiring less power to heat your home, and being electricity rather than gas-dependent, both tick three big boxes.
First, they can help cut your energy usage (note: not the same as cutting your bills). Second, they are far more environmentally friendly because they are not dependent on natural gas (like coal and oil, a fossil fuel). And, finally, they’re good for the country because they stop us importing tanker loads of gas from around the world — from good places such as Norway and not so good such as Qatar and Russia.
But the BUS is more likely to fail than succeed — for many reasons.
For a start, the financial numbers just don’t stack up for most households, especially given the precarious economic backdrop (rising prices, high interest rates and greater job uncertainty).
Although a £5,000 or £6,000 grant looks generous, the pumps aren’t cheap, even though they are not subject to VAT. Install an air source pump and you’re looking at total costs ( purchase plus fitting) coming in at anywhere between £7,000 and £13,000.
Opt for a ground source pump and the costs ramp up — to between £15,000 and £30,000.
Knock off the respective vouchers of £5,000 and £6,000 and you’re still looking at big outlays — costs that many homeowners simply cannot afford. Most low-income households wouldn’t contemplate them in a month of Sundays.
For the record, purchasing and installing a new gas boiler (permitted until 2035) will work out cheaper. For many households, price over the environment will win every time. Indeed, I know of lots of people in their 60s who will wait until close to 2035 — and then purchase a cheaper gas boiler. That installation, they say, will comfortably see them through until the end of their lives.
There may also be extra costs to ensure the heat pumps work effectively — for example, larger radiators, double glazing and insulation for walls and the loft. Then, there are millions of homes, for example, most terrace properties, that simply could not accommodate a heat pump, even if the homeowners are fervent eco-warriors.
The Government’s marketing of the scheme, overseen by the useless Ofgem, has also been uninspiring. Although a campaign has been launched, it hasn’t hit my radar. It pales into insignificance when compared with the millions of pounds thrown at promoting smart meters.
It’s not just me opining. Baroness Parminter, a Liberal Democrat life peer, is chair of the House of Lords environment and climate change committee. She has described the BUS as ‘frankly disappointing’. Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay is more blunt. He says taxpayers should not be subsidising heat pumps.
Even if the take- up of heat pumps were higher, there is a dearth of engineers equipped with the skills to install them. The Government advises households to use an installer who is a member of the microgeneration certification scheme. In turn, these should be registered with either the Renewable Energy Consumer Code or the Home Insulation and Energy Systems Quality Assured Contractors Scheme (HIES).
AFEw days ago, a search on the website of standards group MCS Certified showed that there are 593 companies that will install an air heat pump in the UK and 242 companies happy to put in a ground heat pump.
Fine, given the current take-up, but hardly a big enough army to ramp up heat pump installations (the Government wants 600,000 heat pumps installed each year by 2028. . . dream on).
Of course, things may change. The Government may get its act together and start promoting the BUS, although I imagine it has far more important issues to tackle as we race towards an election.
Companies such as British Gas (boo!) and Octopus Energy are also coming up with cheaper heat pumps that will change the financial attractiveness of the BUS.
Yet, for the foreseeable future, I suspect heat pumps will remain a minority sport, purchased only by the well-to-do. what most homeowners want right now, more than anything else, is lower energy bills. Decarbonising the country’s electricity system by 2035 is of secondary importance.
WILL you install a heat pump — or are they too costly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org