The heat pump hard sell is well and truly on, we can reveal.
In recent weeks, some energy companies have begun bombarding customers with messages imploring them to install an air source heat pump and save on their energy bills.
Typically installed on the back wall of a house, these pumps use air drawn in from outside, along with a coolant and a compressor, to generate hot water and heat for the house.
Although the bombs can be noisy and quite unsightly, this does not silence those who sell them. far from there Their sales pitch is reminiscent of those used by Tenerife timeshare sharks: over the top and full of hot air.
‘The future of heating.’ ‘Low maintenance.’ ‘Reliable year-round heating and hot water.’ ‘Save £385 a year on your energy bill.’
In bad condition: Heat pumps are usually installed on the back wall of a house and use air drawn in from outside, plus a liquid refrigerant and a compressor, to generate hot water and heat.
Attractive sales arguments, all carried out in mailings or messages recently sent to clients of an energy company. But not all claims hold up to close scrutiny.
Yesterday, Money Mail and This is Money asked Mike Foster, CEO of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, to take a look at them.
This was their damning verdict: ‘Gas boilers are just as reliable as a heat pump in providing hot water and heat.
A gas combi boiler also produces instant hot water without the need for a hot water tank, making it arguably a better option for consumers.
‘We always recommend that heating systems be checked regularly to maximize their efficiency.
The service of a heat pump takes twice as long as that of a gas boiler, which makes it twice as expensive. Heat pumps also have an outdoor unit, making them susceptible to damage and theft.
‘As for the £385 savings claim, it’s downright outrageous. Whoever is using that should put their money where their mouth is and guarantee it to the consumer in a contract. If they don’t, that tells you everything you need to know about their validity.
Of course, pithy messages from energy companies are meant to encourage us to dismantle our planet-destroying oil and gas boilers and jump on the heat pump bandwagon.
And they stem from the government’s determination to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Consequently, it has decided that no new fossil fuel burning gas boilers can be installed after 2035 (2025 in the case of new homes).
By eliminating gas boilers and relying on heat pumps that rely on electricity, we will not only save ourselves money, but also save the planet, or so their theory goes.
Some experts, who work for energy companies, have even started talking about heat pumps using phrases like “basically magic” to describe their transformative impact on household energy bills. Alas, this is complete nonsense.
The mega buzz surrounding heat pumps is reminiscent of the buzz surrounding smart meters for the last 15 years.
Crackdown: No new fossil fuel-burning gas boilers can be installed after 2035, or 2025 for new homes.
The introduction of the smart meter program has cost an arm and a leg (£13.5bn and counting), has been fraught with problems (some smart meters have gone dumb) and is years behind schedule. A proverbial dog’s dinner.
Now, some believe that heat pump aggrandizement by a motley mix of stakeholders—government, energy providers, and vendors—is on the same track. A dog dinner to end all dog dinners.
In short, the Government’s objective of having homes install heat pumps given the ban on new gas boiler installations from 2035 is not going to work.
Not even if you continue bribing landlords with four figure grants to get a heat pump. And not even if companies repeatedly beat the hard-sell drum.
Grants of £5,000 are currently available under the Boiler Improvement Scheme for households in England and Wales installing an air source heat pump – £6,000 if a water source pump is chosen or more expensive land.
These grants will be available until at least 2028 (Scotland has its own grant system).
Skeptics think the government’s goal of installing 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 is a far-fetched idea (households bought about 55,000 last year). It’s just not going to happen. And for many reasons.
Foster is emphatic about the financial merits of heat pumps: they are minimal.
He says: ‘Heat pumps are effective in houses that are well insulated and when they have been installed correctly. They are also good for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint.’
But, and it’s a BIG but, he says these advantages come at a huge cost to the consumer, in the form of an initial bill of £13,000 for an air source pump, closer to £30,000 for a ground source pump. [costs before the grants are applied].
Grants of £5,000 are available for households installing an air source heat pump – £6,000 if it’s an expensive water or ground source pump
And, he adds, the pumps won’t save households money in terms of lower bills. This is mainly because electricity currently costs almost four times more than gas, negating the energy efficiency of a heat pump over a gas boiler.
In other words, the additional energy a heat pump generates to heat a home is insufficient to offset the higher unit cost of electricity. Electricity currently costs 30 pence per kilowatt hour, compared to 8 pence for gas.
Mr. Foster says that government-funded research to measure the efficiency of the technology has so far indicated that half of participating homeowners ended up paying more for their energy by switching to heat pumps.
He also says that homeowners often face additional costs when connecting a heat pump to the local power supply. In some cases, for example where a footpath or road needs to be dug, the household will have to pay a four-figure sum of up to £6,000.
In the worst case, someone with an off-grid oil heating system that breaks down after January 2026 could face a financial triple whammy.
Firstly, they might be forced to replace it with a heat pump (new off-grid oil boilers are likely to be banned by early 2026). They could then face an additional bill to connect the pump to the grid, plus a wait of up to 14 weeks while the connection is made.
‘The people who foist heat pumps on us think they are the answer to all our prayers,’ says Mr Foster. “But they ignore the reality of the times we live in. Most households simply don’t have the extra £13,000 to buy a heat pump, and even if they did, I imagine most would prioritize other matters, like keeping money in the bank.’
Stuart Hatch shares Mr. Foster’s views. He was a business consultant for renewable energy for 15 years, heavily involved in the design, manufacture and installation of heat pumps. Most recently, he joined renewable energy contractor Ecolution as commercial director.
Although Mr Hatch says that heat pumps are ‘perfectly fine’, he argues that they are not the be all and end all. ‘There is no heating technology that is the best in
class,’ he says. ‘Neither are heat pumps suitable for all properties.’
For example, he says that many houses do not have enough space in the rear for a bomb, which should be located no more than a meter from the perimeter wall and further from a neighbor’s window.
Some don’t have room for a water cylinder, while others have too many drafts for the pumps to work properly.
He adds: ‘More pertinently, whatever claims are made, a heat pump is not going to save you money, especially if it is poorly installed and the house is not properly insulated. Until there is a leveling off of gas and electricity prices, the math works terribly against the case for heat pumps.’
Paul Yeatman, head of Dorset-based renewable energy specialist Power Naturally, says the blanket promotion of heat pumps is “misguided”.
“Heat pumps are not magic bullets,” he adds. “I would say they are only appropriate for 20 percent of homes.”
Yeatman believes that ‘district heating’, a large heat pump that provides heat and hot water to hundreds of homes, may be a better long-term alternative, but only if National Grid can cope. “The network would be on its knees if the government got away with turning the nation into heat pumps,” he says.
The last word goes to Michael Blackmore, a retired GP from Midhurst, West Sussex. He says: ‘Sadly, vested interests and misinformed politicians will continue to shove heat bombs down our throats.
“They will do so at the same time they are powering electric cars, ignoring National Grid’s warning that unless electricity consumption is curtailed this winter, the nation’s lights could go out.”
Craziness. absolute madness.
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