Make heat pumps free for poorer households, government told

Low-income households should be provided with free heat pumps and insulation in a bid to stimulate the market for low-carbon heating, experts have told the government.

Air source heat pumps work like fridges in reverse, extracting the warmth in the air outside and compressing it to heat the building inside. Photograph: Brianna Soukup/Getty Images Air source heat pumps work like fridges in reverse, extracting the warmth in the air outside and compressing it to heat the building inside. Photograph: Brianna Soukup/Getty Images

In an open letter to the government, more than 20 businesses, energy suppliers, green and anti-poverty groups called for the government to introduce a ‘Fair Heat Deal’ to make the transition away from fossil fuel boilers “attractive, easy, and fair for all”.

The deal would provide free heat pumps and insulation for the fuel poor. For everyone else it would equalise the cost of a heat pump and a fossil fuel boiler and ensure running a heat pump is always cheaper, the group claimed.

The signatories, who include the charities CPRE, Friends of the Earth and Green Alliance as well as think tank E3G and energy firm E.ON, said a Fair Heat Deal would stimulate the heat pump market, helping to accelerate a reduction in technology and installation costs as economies of scale are achieved. This means the costs of subsidising the programme could rapidly fall over time, they said.

Air source heat pumps work like fridges in reverse, extracting the warmth in the air outside and compressing it to heat the building inside. The government is expected to imminently release a plan to decarbonise UK buildings, which are responsible for nearly a quarter of climate emissions.

Moving away from polluting fossil fuel boilers is necessary to decarbonise the UK’s buildings and to get on track to net-zero with the UK’s scientific advisors, the Climate Change Committee, having said heat pumps will play the largest role in decarbonising the UK’s heat supply. 

The signatories argued that the Fair Heat Deal could generate as much growth as any infrastructure programme but would have the extra benefits of creating good jobs in every part of the UK while slashing energy bills.

They claimed that the UK has a world-leading heat appliance manufacturing industry, meaning that  accelerating the deployment of heat pumps could create “a massive inward investment and global export opportunity as other countries look to decarbonise heat”.

Juliet Phillips, a senior policy advisor at E3G said: “Moving from a gas boiler to a heat pump is one of the biggest carbon savings a household can make to fight climate change. But it must be affordable and we urge the government to support our Fair Heat Deal to ensure no one is left behind in the green industrial revolution.”

E3G has backed heat pumps as the main solution to decarbonise home heating over hydrogen citing the extraordinary amount of power needed to create the gas. 

This led to a row with heating industry body the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) which argues that with more than 85% of homes being connected to the gas grid in the UK, the easiest and simplest way to decarbonise is to convert the existing network and home products such as boilers, to hydrogen.

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