Professor Nick Eyre, speaking at the 100%renewableuk seminar on April 22nd (see recording HERE), has said that pro-insulation protestors should think of campaigning for heat pumps rather than insulation. Eyre heads the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS). He talked about how electrification through electric vehicles and heat pumps ushers in a new area with a very large potential for reductions in energy use.
Nick Eyre said ‘We are very confident that heat pumps can save more energy than insulation in buildings’. That is very easy to demonstrate in existing buildings. You can see the (very considerable) amount of research done through CREDS HERE. (Note: his contribution starts from 5 hrs 39 minutes in the video). For a paper he co-wrote on the subject, see HERE.
For example, as discussed in our own report on energy efficiency policy (see HERE), cavity wall insulation (arguably the most substantial and cost-effective retrofit insulation measure) will save around 10 percent of a house’s heating energy consumption. This doubles to around 20 percent if ‘comfort savings’ are added (ie when people use some of the savings in energy bills to heat the house more).
On the other hand, if an air source heat pump is installed then between 60 and 70 percent of energy used for heating will be saved. If it is a ground source heat pump the savings will be higher still. You have to virtually rebuild an existing house to make the savings from insulation comparable to using a heat pump instead of a gas boiler.
It is possible to build houses to much higher energy efficiency specifications than current or planned UK building regulations prescribe. If you do this then it is possible to make walls and roofs much thicker and better insulated so that very little heating indeed will be needed. But that is not the case with almost all buildings currently in existence or which will be planned to be constructed in building regulations being considered by the UK Government.
There has been a discourse that heat pumps should only be fitted if lots of insulation has been fitted first. Now of course lots of insulation should be fitted anyway, but the way the hierarchy is currently expressed distorts the priority which should be given to heat pumps.
It is time to change that. Heat pumps must be given a lot more priority. A lot more money should be put into them as well as insulation, and ways of rolling out heat pump programmes in a targeted and cost-effective manner can be and should be devised.
The present programme where heat pumps are installed by a cottage industry of installers with little incentive to reduce costs should be replaced by a more effective programme. This would involve, a much expanded ‘ECO’ (energy company obligation) programme including not just a lot more insulation but targets for the deployment of heat pumps. Then the system will have more incentive to deliver the heat pumps cheaper. Plus, very importantly, we need to ensure that fossil fuel boilers are banned in new buildings. That is supposed to be happening by 2026. However we are still not sure whether instead there will be a nonsensical get-out clause allowing business as usual in new buildings with so-called ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers allowed.
These measures can ensure the UK is not the slowest in Europe (with the possible exception of Hungary) in the rollout of heat pumps.
by David Toke
You can see the youtube recording of our seminar on 100percent renewable energy for the UK held in London on April 22nd HERE
Speakers at the event were: introduction by Caroline Lucas MP, David Toke, Ian Fairlie (both 100percentrenewableuk), Professor Christian Breyer (LUT University),, Dr Doug Parr (Greenpeace), Alethea Warrington (Possible), Rianna Gargiulo (Friends of the Earth and Divest UK), Charmian Larke (Atlantic Energy), Jonathon Porritt, Professor Mark Barrett (UCL), Professor Dave Elliott, Professor Nick Eyre (University of Oxford), Alison Downes (Stop Sizewell C), Kate Hudson (CND) and Dave Andrews (Claverton Group)