District heating pipes

UK falls behind most of Europe in low-carbon heat pump installations

Image credit: Dejan Gerhardt/Dreamstime

The UK is falling behind in installations of heat pumps compared to most of Europe, Greenpeace has said.

In a new assessment of data provided by the European Heat Pump Association, it found the UK is seriously lagging behind its European neighbours when it comes to switching to clean sources of home heating and decarbonising its housing sector.

Heat pumps – which effectively work like a refrigerator running in reverse – can significantly lower heating bills but the upfront cost of having one installed prevents many households from making the transition. A single heat pump costs approximately £10,000.

Of the 21 countries for which data was available, the UK came joint last on heat pump sales last year, with just 1.3 heat pumps sold per 1000 households. The UK was second to last when it came to total installations, with just 10 installations per 1000 households.

Earlier this week, the UK government announced a £270m ‘Green Heat Network Fund’ which is intended to support low-carbon technologies including heat pumps.

The country’s heat pump sales figures per household are currently three times lower than in Poland, ten times lower than in France, and 32 times lower than sales in Norway.

The disparity is even greater for installations. The UK installed more than five times fewer heat pumps than Lithuania, more than 30 times fewer than Estonia and 60 times fewer heat pumps than Norway - which topped the charts both in sales and installations.

Currently housing is responsible directly for around 14 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with gas boiler heating systems coupled with poor insulation playing a large role in that.

As countries around the world ramp up their efforts to decarbonise housing to help tackle the climate crisis, heat pumps are widely anticipated to become the alternative to gas boilers for heating homes.

There are other alternatives to – the owner of British Gas called in May for a mass rollout across the UK of hybrid boilers, which use both gas and electricity.

Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said: “The UK already has the draughtiest homes in western Europe, now we’re last when it comes to clean heating too. We perform better in Eurovision than we do decarbonising our homes, and that’s saying something.

“If the government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale. This means substantial grants for heat pump installations, especially for the poorest families, removing VAT on green home technologies and a phase out of gas boilers early next decade.

“Without these measures, which many of our European neighbours already have in place, we’ll fall further behind on the ‘green homes’ leaderboard. But more importantly we’ll fail to remove emissions from homes fast enough to meet our legally-binding climate obligations.”

The Government’s long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy, as well as its Comprehensive Spending Review, are both due this autumn. They will set out the government’s plans for decarbonising homes and buildings, and the finances made available to do it.

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