Daily archives: August 3, 2023

Common Sense and Heat Pumps 286

In discussing government proposals to effectively enforce a mass public switch to heat pumps for home heating rather than gas boilers, I venture into an area where I have no expertise. I therefore intend to set out a series of numbered propositions which appear to me incontrovertible.


I follow this by a series a) b) c) of policy propositions. (I have been trying to think of a word for enumerate when you are marking by alphabet, but can’t come up with one).

This is very much an invitation to debate, not an attempt to impose my view. I am reliant on common sense, which is really just an idiom meaning logic. Here are my propositions:

1) It is not unreasonable for people to wish homes to be heated to 20°C or slightly higher.

2) Heat pumps are much more energy efficient than gas boilers. They are therefore undoubtedly a good thing for reducing energy use. But in home size applications they cannot match a gas boiler’s ability to generate very hot water quickly.

3) Insulation should come before heat pumps. To concentrate on how heating is produced, ahead of reducing the need for heating, is illogical. This is particularly true as a great deal of the housing stock is so poorly insulated that standard domestic heat pumps are insufficiently powerful to maintain 20C in them in cold weather.

4) The efficiency of heat pumps reduces in cold weather. They use more electricity to produce the same amount of heat. This is a different point to the obvious fact that more heat is needed in cold weather.

5) Almost all heat pump systems therefore have an auxiliary method of simple resistance electric heating to boost output when needed, akin to an immersion heater. The “they work in Norway” argument therefore needs deeper consideration.

6) Ground source heat pumps do not suffer such efficiency losses but are much more expensive installations and of course you have to own enough ground.

6) In fact, particularly in colder areas, the fuel cost of running a heat pump is not significantly cheaper, and often not cheaper at all, than running a gas boiler with the same result in heat output. The notion that a heat pump will pay for itself in lower fuel bills is generally false.

7) The primary reason for this is that electricity is much more expensive than gas per thermal unit.

8) Electricity prices in the UK are double those in France from their state energy company, while the British privatised energy companies throughout the supply train make massive profits.

9) A full heat pump installation to an average home obviously varies but costs around £20,000. With upgraded radiators and insulation it not infrequently can be double that or more.

10) As a general rule, those least able to afford it live in the worst housing, particularly with regard to insulation.

11) It is simply impractical for the cost of transition to heat pumps to be met by the ordinary citizen.

12) The national grid already operates at 99% of capacity in coldest days of winter, even including the capacity to import. If all gas boilers were swapped for heat pumps, electricity demand on the coldest days of winter would approximately double.

So what is the solution? Well, I have long argued that the state needs to undertake a massive, fully state funded programme of insulation in every home. Here are my policy propositions:

a) The transition to a lower carbon economy is a massive undertaking that cannot be met by consumers “nudged” by government incentives or taxations

b) It requires emergency state intervention akin to the state takeover of virtually all industry during World War 2

c) All energy companies must be nationalised

d) The state must undertake a massive and urgent programme bringing every home up to high insulation standards, mobilising the needed resources and labour

e) Distributed electricity production must be prioritised. All buildings should be fitted with solar panels and battery storage, and marine type wind turbines

f) Heat pumps should be installed by the state in homes where practical. District heating systems should be constructed in all dense urban areas. A range of other technologies, eg biogas and geothermal, should be deployed for these where appropriate.

g) Use of fossil fuel should be minimised but abolition is impractical.

h) Land based wind power should be massively boosted and storage options, particularly pumped hydro-electric, selected and capacity built. Estuary barrages should be prioritised.

i) There must be an acceptance of undesirable localised environmental impact necessary to the big picture

I fear that ill thought out schemes that threaten to land households with massive and unrealistic transition costs are leading to an upsurge in climate change denial.

This claim from the Scottish Greens paints a far more optimistic picture:

Unfortunately it is not really true. If you look at the actual datasets for the survey, you find that 46.76% answered: “I would be willing to install a heat pump only with government finance”. Only 10.02% said they were prepared to install a heat pump without government finance.

Current proposals for subsidy would still leave the average consumer with a five figure bill. This is not the way forward.

Your views are most welcome. I realise this will attract some climate change denial in the comments, but hey-ho it’s a free blog.


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