Heat pumps: more than 80% of households in Great Britain ‘satisfied with system’


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Jun 18, 2023

Heat pumps: more than 80% of households in Great Britain ‘satisfied with system’

Exclusive: England, Scotland and Wales survey reports similar response to people

Exclusive: England, Scotland and Wales survey reports similar response to people with gas boilers

More than 80% of households that have replaced their gas boilers with an electric heat pump are satisfied with their new heating system, according to the first major survey of heat pump users.

Those who use heat pumps to warm their homes reported broadly similar levels of satisfaction to those with gas boilers, the survey commissioned by the innovation charity Nesta found.

Satisfaction levels were also similar between respondents who installed a heat pump in a new-build home or in older properties, at more than 80%, despite persistent concerns that heat pumps are only effective in modern buildings.

The survey of more than 2,500 domestic heat pump owners and more than 1,000 domestic gas boiler owners in England, Scotland and Wales over the last winter is thought to be the largest investigation into how households have responded to heat pumps to date.

Madeleine Gabriel, the director of a sustainable future at Nesta, said results should put to rest "outdated" concerns about the low carbon heating technology and prompt the government to "redouble its efforts" to phase out fossil fuel heating.

Concerns over the effectiveness of heat pumps have threatened to derail the government's plan for 600,000 heat pumps to be installed across the UK every year to help cut carbon emissions.

Households have been slow to take up government vouchers worth £5,000 to help cover the cost of replacing a gas boiler with a new heat pump. Slightly more than a third of the scheme's grants were taken up in the last financial year.

However, the survey, which was undertaken by Eunomia Research and Consulting, found that 81% of households were as satisfied or more satisfied with heat pumps compared with previous heating systems, including gas boilers, electric heating, or oil and LPG boilers.

In simple terms, an electric heat pump works like a reverse fridge, extracting warmth from the outside air, the ground or a nearby water source before concentrating the heat and transferring it indoors. They can usually be found outside a home, and they look like a standard air-conditioning unit.

About 85% of UK homes use gas boilers for heating, making it one of the most polluting sectors of the economy. The fossil fuels used in our homes for heating, hot water and cooking make up more than a fifth of the UK's carbon emissions, meaning low-carbon alternatives are critical if the UK government hopes to meet its climate targets.

Jillian Ambrose

Satisfaction levels were similar for households living in Victorian or older properties, at 83%, which appears to contradict concerns that heat pumps are only effective in modern buildings or those that have undergone extensive energy efficiency upgrades.

Gabriel said: "The rollout of heat pumps across all property types in Britain is proving that the age of your house doesn't have to be a big factor when deciding whether to get a greener heating system."

On running costs, which is another key area of concern for households considering a heat pump, the survey found that two-thirds of heat pump owners and 59% of gas boiler owners were satisfied even without extensive energy efficiency upgrades.

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The survey found that upgrading building fabric alongside heat pump installations was common "but by no means universal". About 36% of heat pump users carried out loft insulation before the installation, and 23% installed wall insulation or extra window glazing. Only 14% chose to undertake multiple measures.

Clem Cowton, the director of external affairs at the energy supplier Octopus Energy, said the survey's findings were reflected in "the astronomical demand Octopus is seeing for our heat pumps".

The company says it has a waiting list of about 50,000 households that have expressed an interest in having a pump installed. To meet this demand, Octopus is training up hundreds of installers at UK bases. The company has also invested in a Northern Ireland-based heat pump manufacturer, Renewable Energy Devices, to produce about 1,000 pumps every month.

"The government should now have the confidence to move forward quickly with its proposal to remove punitive levies from household electricity bills, and streamline out-of-date planning rules to make it easier and cheaper for everyone to make the switch to cleaner, safer and more efficient heating with a heat pump," Cowton said.

This article was amended on 30 May 2023. An earlier version referred to Eunomia instead of Eunomia Research and Consulting.

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