The main reason that the UK is falling behind countries like Germany and Denmark in rolling out heat pumps is because building regulations and other regulations are suited to support gas boilers not heat pumps. This claim has been made by a heat pump installer attempting to develop a cheaper heat pump programme.
This contradicts the story emerging from the Environmental Audit Committee which blames high electricity prices relative to gas as being the biggest problem facing the heat pump programme in the UK.
Brendon Uys, Managing Director of Heacol Ltd, who is developing a new line of compact heat pumps for the new-build housing market said ‘We need to change building regulations to allow all-house running for heat pumps and also rapidly train installers to install heat pumps properly as they are installed and run on the European continent. Building regulations are a thermodynamic disaster zone for heat pumps which explains a lot of the complaints about the performance of heat pumps in the UK’.
In Denmark, for example, there are nearly twice as many heat pumps installed in houses compared to the UK, even though the UK population is more than ten times bigger than Denmark.
A big reason for this colossal difference is simply that in the UK, but not in Denmark or other European countries, building and other regulation are designed to favour gas boilers rather than heat pumps. Gas boiler systems operate best if they are overbuilt for capacity and, within houses, operated in ‘zoned’ rooms.
On the other hand heat pumps work most efficiently when run on a ‘one house’ system and when capacity is not overbuilt. Indeed that is the way they are installed and run on the European continent. Yet in the UK heat pumps have to be installed according to the regulations set for gas boilers. Consequently, heat pumps in the UK tend to be much more expensive than necessary and much less efficient and much more costly to operate than on the continent.
It is true that gas prices are generally higher on the continent, but in the UK this effect should be neutralised by the renewable heat incentive (RHI), which was set up to fund renewable heating. Unfortunately, the RHI incentive insists that heat pumps meet a suite of regulations that suit gas boilers and gas microgeneration units, and as a result, according to Brendon Uys the RHI has actually held back deployment of heat pumps in the UK.
The Government has recently launched a system of grants for heat pumps in buildings, which helps reduce the upfront costs for homeowners. However, unless the regulations governing heat pump installation and operation are changed to suit heat pumps, the large-scale roll-out heat pumps will continue to be held back in the UK.
It is therefore very galling to read that the energy establishment appears to be focussing on calls to increase gas prices through some sort of hefty carbon tax. Hitting all consumers currently using gas with large price increases is a politically toxic proposition, and is a suggestion that one would almost think of as an excuse for inaction. A much better course of action would be to design regulations and incentives that suit the heat pump industry and people who want to install the heat pumps rather than the gas lobby.
Ah yes, and if people want to stop the price differential between gas and electricity getting bigger then, amongst other things, they should make sure that cheap renewables are commissioned rather than new nuclear power which will add to electricity prices!
By David Toke