Heat pumps, the heating appliance that uses the same principles as a refrigerator but in reverse, are at the centre of the government’s plan to electrify residential heating. In turn, the government plans to transition electricity generation from ageing power stations to renewable sources, meaning homes will be heated without burning fossil fuels. But transitioning the UK’s 30m homes and buildings is a significant challenge, as Harding Heating has revealed via this research. We analysed who the people installing heat pumps are, how satisfied they are with them, what is standing in the way of the government achieving its plan and what more the government can do, and the results are fascinating.
Who are the people installing heat pumps?
Heat pumps are predominately being installed by wealthy households in rural locations, as can be seen below.
Interestingly, a recent survey also showed the wealthiest 30% of households are 10 times more likely to install a heat pump than the poorest, and 74% of those who installed a heat pump live in a rural location. Heat pump owners typically have an average of 4 bedrooms versus 3 bedrooms for those that install a gas boiler and heat pump owners typically either have older (pre-1900) or newer houses (post-2012), whereas the most populous category for those that opt for a gas boiler, are mid-century houses, built between 1950 to 1975.
How effective and efficient are heat pumps?
With satisfaction of 89%, heat pumps are effective at heating water, but that figure reduces to 56% when asked about heating spaces, and two-thirds of heat pump owners have a second heating source as a fall-back option.
66% of heat pump owners are satisfied with their running costs, which is similar to gas boilers, at 60%. Combined, this tells us that a heat pump is unlikely to reduce your energy costs materially.
How are the government’s plans progressing?
The government plans to reach net zero by 2050. To achieve this, they hope to increase the number of heat pumps installed from 30,000 each year to 600,000 each year, a twenty-fold increase. And installing 600,000 heat pumps yearly will require approximately 30,000 installers, or 27,000 more than the UK currently has.
Echoing the trend of more heat pumps being installed in rural locations, the number of accredited installers is also highest in rural areas, as can be seen below.
What else is the government doing to accelerate heat pump adoption?
The government has three fundamental mechanisms to encourage heat pump installations; support innovation in heat pump technology, give grants to customers that install heat pumps and penalise boiler manufacturers that miss their targets.
Supporting innovation is being driven via the £450m Strategic Innovation Fund, which seeks to “help turn the UK into the ‘Silicon Valley’ of energy”. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme gives grants of £5,000 towards heat pump installation, while from 2024, the government plans to introduce a £5,000 penalty to the boiler manufacturers per missed heat pump target.
Can the government do more?
We believe they can and should. We advocate higher subsidies for lower-income households to make a heat pump more financially attractive than a gas boiler for those who can’t afford the higher up-front costs. We also believe supporting training and accreditation costs for installers would greatly increase the number of installers operating, enabling their plan to succeed.