The new scheme is designed to help homeowners replace their gas boilers with a more eco-friendly alternative
The government has announced a new £5,000 grant for homeowners that will enable them to replace their gas boilers with heat pumps.
The three-year-long scheme, which will be open to people in England and Wales from next April, is part of the government’s wider £3.9 billion plan to reduce heat-related carbon emissions, and is designed to encourage the adoption of greener heating technologies.
The grant – part of the £450 million Boiler Upgrade Scheme – will bring the cost of heat pumps in line with regular gas boilers, which ministers have said will not be sold after 2035.
What are heat pumps?
Heat pumps are an environmentally-friendly way of heating homes and buildings. Instead of using gas or oil, they extract heat from air or the ground. They work even at low temperatures, and produce around three times as much energy as they use, making them a more efficient heating option.
Heat pumps are powered by electricity. As British electricity is increasingly powered by low carbon sources such as wind and hydropower, heat pumps are a cleaner alternative to burning gas – they also don’t emit the pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, that boilers do.
How do heat pumps work?
In an air-source heat pump, a refrigerant flows through a unit on the outside of the building where air is blown over the pipe, warming the fluid. Electricity is then used to compress the fluid, which raises the temperature further, enabling the system to carry the heat inside – sort of like a refrigerator in reverse.
In a ground-source heat pump (GSHP), the system works in a similar way except the heat is gathered via underground pipes. This is more efficient and therefore comes with lower running costs, although GSHPs are more expensive to install.
Are heat pumps as effective as gas boilers?
The main difference between heat pumps and gas boilers is speed. Gas boilers respond almost instantly, whereas heat pumps will warm a house more slowly and consistently via large radiators or underground flooring. However, heat pump systems are designed to be ‘smart’, and can therefore determine the most efficient way of keeping your house at the temperature you want. You can also programme timing settings on a heat pump, just as you would with a gas boiler. The key difference is air or ground-source heat pumps are not producing carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for global warming.
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How will the heat pump grant work?
There will be no obligation for homeowners with gas boilers to make the switch to heat pumps. Instead the government hopes that homeowners will choose to make the change when the time comes to replace their existing gas boiler.
Currently, the average cost of a heat pump is between £6,000 and £18,000, depending on the type of pump and the size of the property.
The government claims the amount households will have to pay on top of the grant will be “similar” to the cost of a new boiler. It has also said it hopes to reduce the average cost of a heat pump by “between a quarter and a half” by 2025. However, even with the £5,000 grant owners of larger properties will face extra cost to install.
Exactly how the grant will work in terms of applications and suppliers is yet to be announced by the Government and this clarity is eagerly awaited.
What do environmental organisations say about the heat pump grant?
While the grant is sure to bring heat pump technology into the public eye – and incentive its uptake for some – critics claim the scheme does not go far enough in addressing the UK’s emissions challenge.
At present, some 25 million homes in the UK are heated by gas boilers, and the government has previously expressed an ambition to have 600,000 heats pumps installed in the UK every year by 2028. However, as Friends of the Earth notes, the money allocated to the scheme would only support 30,000 pumps a year.
Speaking to BBC News, Friends of the Earth head of science Mike Childs said: “Investment will drive down the cost of heat pumps, and technical innovation plus skills training is a part of this, but so is scale. These grants will only incentivise the best-off households.”
The bottom line
Following the government’s surprising decision to scrap the Green Homes Grant earlier this year, we’ve been waiting for an announcement on some kind of similar scheme for insulation. Given the government’s net zero ambitions and emissions targets, tackling domestic emissions through greener heating technologies makes sense. But whether the new grant is extensive enough to drive renewable energy adoption in a meaningful way is up for debate. For those looking to replace their gas boiler anyway, however, the scheme could come at just the right time.
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