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UK Agency Calls for Greater Understanding of Heat Pumps

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Julian Jackson's picture
Staff Writer, Energy Central, BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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  • Jan 30, 2023

A major research organization is promoting heat pumps as it perceives a lack of awareness from the British public. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) is over 100 years old, and has been in the forefront of applying innovative engineering to construction, as well as acting as a think-tank investigating new projects in the building and energy sectors.

In a new report, the BRE found that 62% of the British public do not understand heat pumps. The organization has called on the government to improve consumer awareness and accelerate the uptake of heat pumps.

British housing is notoriously among the worst in Europe for energy efficiency. If the economy is to transition to net zero, then a massive retrofit of older UK buildings will be necessary. In spite of the government target of reaching net zero by 2050, some 88% of homes in the UK are still heated by natural gas, which contributes almost a quarter (23%) of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The large hike in energy prices over the last year have contributed to rising energy poverty in poorly-insulated homes.

With the slow construction of Hinkley C nuclear power plant, the decommissioning of coal-fired generation, and issues with the cost and supply of natural gas, energy efficiency would seem to be increasingly beneficial for the UK energy market's future resiliency.

Heat pumps are one of the technologies which should help to increase energy efficiency during the transition to a low carbon energy sector. Unfortunately these findings show that heat pumps are not on the radar of the average person, so the uptake, including access to subsidies to replace boilers with heat pumps, is poor. The Government’s target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028 is looking unrealistic, unless there is a widespread promotion of the technology.

The BRE thinks that heat pumps are the one of the best options for decarbonization. They can be affordably installed and operated in well-insulated buildings. The reduced heat need in properly-insulated buildings could easily be met by steady, lower temperature heat supplied by heat pumps. This would aid the transition to clean energy. A lack of public awareness, slow momentum on energy efficiency changes, and limited investment in the market are the key factors contributing to the slow take-up of heat pumps, according to the BRE report.

The organization is calling on the UK government to create a 'National Retrofit Strategy', with both a comprehensive insulation roll-out and heat pumps as major components.

Gillian Charlesworth, CEO of BRE, says, “Improving consumer awareness of heat pumps will help to boost demand over the long-term and, ultimately, bring the UK closer to its net zero target.

“Whilst this awareness program continues, we would also like to see government implement a national retrofit strategy that will improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock by further accelerating the roll-out of measures such as insulation.

“Our latest polling shows that there is a clear knowledge gap around the benefits of heat pumps which needs to be addressed if we are to deliver meaningful, lasting change and decarbonize the UK’s inefficient buildings. Neither the Government nor the public can afford to waste this opportunity – and keeping up current momentum in this area will be vital.”

The BRE predicts that this market would be worth £6 bn ($7.5 bn) and add 175,000 jobs to the economy by 2030, if decisive action was taken soon.

Charlesworth concludes, “Much of the transformative technology which can help turn the tide already exists. What is required is a coherent and cogent policy direction, backed up with the right resources.”


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