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Heat pumps are key to securing the UK’s energy independence

(Alamy)

4 min read

In the United States, where President Joe Biden is reindustrialising and creating jobs in clean technology, heat pumps have been dubbed freedom pumps in a nod to the energy independence they bring.

In Britain we harbour a similar goal – keep the nation powered up without relying on imports. Russia’s war on Ukraine and cuts to the supply of gas mean the question of energy security is a driving force behind how we heat our homes. So how can we ensure our actions match our ambitions?

The decline in North Sea gas production means Britain’s reliance on imports will grow by 60 per cent by 2035 on the current trajectory. We will find ourselves more, not less, vulnerable to the flow from overseas pipelines, leaving bill payers at the mercy of volatile energy markets.

Public enthusiasm for switching to cleaner, cheaper energy is clear

Heat pumps, freedom pumps – whatever your favoured term – run on electricity rather than gas. They work by sucking in heat from the air or the ground and using it to warm radiators and the water for taps and showers. If Britain installed as many heat pumps as Finland, gas imports would halve by 2032. But what can be done to drive uptake?

The government is in discussions to drive up the production of EVs by requiring car manufacturers make an ever-increasing percentage of vehicles electric. Some are proposing a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) mandate equivalent for heat pumps, requiring gas boiler makers ramp up production of the electric alternative. Coupled with ensuring new homes have heat pumps rather than gas boilers – as part of an ambitious Future Homes Standard – this would push Britain closer to energy independence.

Together these policies – the ZEV-equivalent clean heat market mechanism and making heat pumps part of the Future Homes Standard – could save Britain importing around 200 terawatt hours of gas, the total of 16 million homes’ annual current consumption. And gas imports could go down 10 per cent in 2035, saving us handing out a total of £9bn to foreign gas companies by the same date.

Such incentives would not only support local businesses such as heat pump makers Kensa, in my Cornwall constituency, but also help households cut their energy bills.

Octopus Energy and Legal & General are making Britain’s biggest ever investment in heat pumps – £70m to scale Kensa Group. This cash injection will boost employment. The clean industrial expansion could go further, with government offering stimulus packages similar to the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and those offered by the European Union.

We must ignore naysayers who claim heat pumps can only work in some homes – across my constituency the technology is being put to good use, even in old homes that are traditionally harder to insulate. Richard Lowes, for example, is delighted with his heat pump, describing the choice to cut bills and add value to his home as “a no brainer.”

The first ever survey of heat pump users in Britain found 73 per cent were satisfied or more satisfied compared to their previous heating system and the satisfaction levels were consistent even in Victorian homes. What’s more, heat pump users are more satisfied with the running costs than gas boiler users – 67 per cent compared to 59 per cent.

The technology is gaining popularity and the government’s flagship Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) could soon run out of vouchers. The BUS helps homes replace old gas boilers with electric heat pumps. There are 90,000 vouchers available, offering a £5,000 grant towards installation. Demand has been growing at such a rate that the vouchers could be gone in 2024, months ahead of the planned end of the scheme.

According to the ONS there are an estimated 30 million households in Britain, so the 90,000 represents just a fraction. Public enthusiasm for switching to cleaner, cheaper energy is clear, the mounting demand for BUS vouchers speaks for itself.

In other countries, from Norway to Poland and Estonia, heat pumps are being deployed successfully. Around a fifth of homes in Europe have replaced gas boilers with heat pumps and are neither feeling the chill nor out of pocket on energy bills.

Heat pumps are the technology that’s right under our nose, demanding to be utilised and help Britain achieve that haloed position of energy independence, so what are we waiting for?

 

Cherilyn Mackrory, Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth

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