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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286 thoughts on “Common Sense and Heat Pumps

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  • Anne

    We must not forget that most “recommendations” for the “right” room temperature, especially for offices, have been made for healthy men around 40 years of age. However, the degree of warmth you need depends on your individual physical condition, in particular on your muscle mass (muscles, and not fat, are working like an oven). As a consequence, women, older people, infirm people and pre-puberty children need definitely more than 18-20 degrees Celsius in their rooms when they are not doing some physical work. Research has also found out that while men work mentally well in a temperature between 18-20 Celsius, women perform best in temperatures around 26 Celsius. These facts are not very popular in the moment, in particular since it is also the above group (women, children and older people) which is hit hardest by the economic crisis and lack of government support caused by the Western sanctions and useless investments in the “military industrial complex”.

    • Bartlebye

      That study which fixes different optimal working temperatures appears to be an argument for segragated work places.
      A logical approach would be to wear differential clothing with those who feel cold wearing much warmer clothes.
      This approach is not much embraced because of social conventions which prioritize fashion, a social stigma attached to someone who needs to wear more clothing, and a backlash against a workplace that is “too cheap to keep the place warm”.
      These perceptions might be lessened by public information messaging, but the priority of personal preferences has always been essential in assisting the fuel industry to bring about the ongoing climate destruction. The comment about military spending is certainly true.

    • Stevie Boy

      We also mustn’t forget that most people are not active when at home, say, in the evening, sat reading, watching TV, or on an device. So, even a fit, healthy, non fat, 40 year old with normal BP and heart rate might feel cold at a temperature of 20 C. Room temperature is very much a personal thing, no place for state dictat.

    • oldbloke

      Research has also found out that … women perform best in temperatures around 26 Celsius.

      Really?! Sounds rubbish to me – it certainly does not apply to my wife or to any other woman I’ve known. We need a link to that ‘research’, please.

  • Mark

    When you say “I realise this will attract some climate change denial in the comments”, I am curious what you think climate change is,as it applies today, opposed to that which has always existed?

    For example, I read in the blog site ‘The Consciousness of Sheep’ that: “Al Gore buying a beachfront mansion in California while lecturing us on Sea level rise, Joe Biden travelling in a 21 car motorcade to take “the most carbon intensive afternoon nap in history,” and the London Mayor parading around in a convoy of SUVs while lecturing the public on air pollution, play into the emerging counternarrative that this is all fake, that climate change is a scam to cover one final wealth grab by the rich and powerful… and the poorer people get, the more they will buy into this narrative – Just like with Brexit – as the only hope that their fortunes might improve.”,

    It certainly seems that sacrifice in the name of climate change doesn’t apply to the lawmakers and the privileged.

    • glenn_nl

      Mark – the fact that some people can be utter hypocrites should not be of much interest to anyone, unless the individuals concerned were promoting themselves as paragons of virtue. To the best of my knowledge, none of those you mention are doing so.

      The Bank of England chief was telling us the other day that we should learn to be more poor and accept that fact. He, in the meantime, is pocketing the better half of £1M/year. Does that mean money doesn’t really exist or something?

      People will to grab hold of anything to deny what they don’t want to believe.

      • Bob The Hod

        On the contrary, people like you will grab hold of any bit of faulty logic (in this case, false equvalence) in order to confirm to themselves and assert to others that which they do believe in.

        I think that anybody using actual logic will agree: Climate change does exist. In fact it always has existed and always will, as long as there is a climate on planet Earth.

        It isn’t unreasonable to ignore rules that are set by people who then do the opposite of what they are telling you to do. They clearly do not share your faith in their own words.

        • Clark

          Bob The Hod, no, climate doesn’t always change. It remains pretty stable for millions of years, until something changes it. Most worryingly, changes in climate often coincide with mass extinctions. But even if climate did change continually, human activity is currently changing it tens or hundreds of times faster than anything found in the geological record.

          If you want to know how climate is changing you’ll need to study the climate rather than the behaviour of politicians.

          • Bob The Hod

            Well Clark, I never had you down as a climate change denier.

            Most of the things that change the climate are ongoing and constant cycles and processes that are completely outside of and independent from human influence and control. Empirical evidence indicates that the climate, and seas levels, have changed considerably in the last 1000 years, and that is a relatively stable period in climatic history.

            The warming that is occurring now is but a drop in the ocean (pun intended) compared to the warming that occurred during the younger dryas period, which, by the way is within the scope of human history, but a mere blink of an eye away in geological time.

            You have total faith in what you are being told by people who don’t do what they tell you to do; I don’t share that faith. Either way, going along with the panic over weather events changes nothing, other than making your experience of life a more anxious one.

          • Clark

            The Younger Dryas predates human civilisation by thousands of years; strictly, it’s in the period of human prehistory. It could be regarded as a temporary return of the last ice age.

            We have absolutely no reason to believe that either civilisation, nor most of the currently very high human population, could survive such enormous changes in temperature.

            Apart from that, I expect we are merely discussing at crossed purposes. I regard the current climactic regime to be that of the Quaternary period, ie. widespread glaciation punctuated by interglacials, the alternation driven by Earth’s Milankovitch cycles. In this sense, climate hasn’t changed for millions of years.

            “You have total faith in what you are being told by people who don’t do what they tell you to do…”

            That is an assumption on your part and one I find offensive – and the moderation rules say you’re not to impute motive. I am doing nothing that Gore, Biden etc. are “telling me to”, except possibly by coincidence, though I wouldn’t know because I don’t take much notice of politicians. I am motivated by my own critical faculties.

        • glenn_nl

          Bob : “It isn’t unreasonable to ignore rules that are set by people who then do the opposite of what they are telling you to do. They clearly do not share your faith in their own words.”

          Why is it all about following the examples of others with you? People who are supposedly wise and good, and their words taken entirely on faith? This isn’t some silly religion where you get priests handing out unquestionable wisdom, you know.

          Look, if someone says you should look both ways, and cross the road when no traffic is coming, what do you do? Personally, I would evaluate that advice, and follow it because it makes sense. You would – instead – watch carefully for contradictory behaviour in the giver of such advice, I take it? If they failed to take the right precautions, forget the advice. But if they act properly, you would blindly trust and do the same as a matter of faith alone, right?

          If the above sounds silly (which it is), that’s because it is precisely the behaviour you apparently expect of anyone not in the denialist community.

          To spell it out – I don’t care what a politician does. That has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the reality of climate change.

    • Clark

      “…this is all fake, that climate change is a scam to cover one final wealth grab by the rich and powerful…”

      Why should a wealth grab make something fake? War is a wealth grab but it isn’t fake.

      Seriously, what did you expect the rich and powerful to do about climate change? Get all altruistic or something?

      “Sacrifice in the name of climate change” was invented by BP; they paid a PR company a quarter of a billion to promote it. Associating climate change with personal sacrifice was a brilliant move – they crafted a message that no one wanted to hear, simultaneously sabotaging the necessary discussion into the biggest blame game of all time.

      • Stevie Boy

        Nudge, nudge. Get jabbed to protect granny !
        I hear Chris Whitty is now a climate expert, as is Mark Carney. All aboard the climate gravy train

        • Clark

          “All aboard the climate gravy train”

          Er, that’s right. The military industrial complex invaded Iraq and Libya at massive taxpayer expense so they could build windmills all over them.

  • Republicofscotland

    I watched a programme on the heat pump for homes, the government in England are giving folk a £5000 pounds grants, (the grant is higher in Scotland) however the average cost of installing the entire system is over £10,000, many folk don’t have that kind of cash.

    But here’s the real kicker, watching the company install the system in a home on the programme, it turns out it wouldn’t matter if all UK governments funded the installation programmes of all new homes and existing homes, simply because there’s a huge shortage of engineers who know how to install the systems.

  • Brian Sides

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

    So why do it? As they say in engineering, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
    Do heat pumps cost more than gas or oil boilers including installation? YES
    Is a electrically driven heat pump going to use less electricity than a gas or oil boiler? NO.
    Is the extra electricity cost of using a electrically driven heat pump going to be more than the cost of the gas or oil used in a gas or oil boiler? This will depend on how cold and for how long it is cold for.
    But if it does not heat up the water enough then forget baths and how hot are your radiators going to get.
    Many houses can not easily be insulated to a high standard.

    So why transition to a lower carbon economy?
    Oh yes the planet is boiling apparently haven’t noticed in South Wales it has been a disappointing summer.
    Or maybe the planet is not boiling and all the world is going to end doom predictions and bad computer models are wrong.
    So the trillions trying to transition to a lower carbon economy will just be a waste of resources.
    Getting resource management wrong on this scale ends up costing lives.

      • Stevie Boy

        IMO. The point is that even with the best supercomputers, climate models can only handle a resolution of 100km cubes when modelling the global climate. And, the models can only handle a limited number of parameters, so sunspot activity and volcanoes aren’t included, for example.
        So when it’s pissing down in Cardiff, but blue skies and sunshine in Bristol the models cannot recreate that, they are guesswork and not even a good guess at that. So what chance London versus Delhi? Also, the planet works on timescales orders of magnitude greater than the last 50 years. So recent storms and heatwaves are just a localised insignificant blip in the scheme of things. Attribution of recent extreme weather events to CO₂ and assumed global warming ain’t science. Also, NASA’s actual observational data does not support the climate BS.

        • Clark

          Why care about climate models when the polar icecaps are melting away?

          It takes heat to melt ice. A lot of it. The quantity of heat that would melt a kilo of ice would raise a kilo of water from zero to eighty centigrade. Where do you think that vast flow of heat will go when it has finished melting the icecaps?

          • Stevie Boy

            But Clark, the polar icecaps are not melting away. You’re falling for the climate propaganda.
            You also might be interested/surprised to know that the Great Barrier Reef is tickety-boo and in fine health and not bleaching away. Many of the scare stories are just that.
            Of course you won’t read any of this in the MSM because it doesn’t follow the official narrative.
            And personally, I don’t care about climate models as they are innacurate and mostly don’t even follow available past data, but even so, as they say: ‘past performance is no indicator of future performance’. The reality is that accurately modelling the global climate is beyond our technical capabilities – it’s too complex.

          • Peter C

            @Stevie Boy,

            The reality is that accurately modelling the global climate is beyond our technical capabilities – it’s too complex.

            Totally agree. The number of different mutually interacting variables (i.e. synergistic systems) involved, terrestrial, pelagic, oceanic, solar and cosmic – many of which we might know little or nothing about – are well beyond our modelling capacities.

          • Clark

            “But Clark, the polar icecaps are not melting away.”

            Er, right again. That’ll be why major shipping concerns are opening new arctic shipping routes through what used to be ice, and nations are arguing over new arctic fossil fuel extraction licenses.

            “And personally, I don’t care about climate models…”

            Well don’t use them as your primary argument then. But you did, apparently just because it was rhetorically convenient. And you preferred an extrapolation from South Wales to the entire biosphere over a sampling of the entire biosphere, ie. you preferred a generalisation based on a solitary and subjective data point over an approximation based on millions of actual measurements; very scientific.

  • Harry

    I’m sure these comments have been made before but I am too lazy to read every comment before I start.

    1) All your points seem to be correct. Heat pumps are more efficient than old tech electric heat, but they will not compete with the most efficient gas units in places where gas is cheap, like North America, Kuwait or Russia. The newest heat pumps work at pretty low temperatures. Worth noting that they can be reversed to offer cooling in the summer.

    2) They are more efficient than some of the older tech fossil fuel heating systems.

    3) The idea is that sometime in the future we will have transitioned away from fossil fuels and we will all have solar electricity either directly (your own panels) or indirectly (the generating utility generates renewable).

    4) But for this to make sense we have to have a lot of renewable capacity. For example, you would need enough to power your own home and charge your electric car and fill up your battery storage for night time. That also applies to utility supplied electricity. Lots of solar in day time. Much less on cold, windless nights.

    • Marc

      Unfortunately, “green” electricity production is very inefficient in terms of kW per unit of land surface area. There isn’t enough space available to sustain our insane levels of consumption, especially if we want to replace fossil fuel by electricity-powered systems. Let alone the fact that in UK we are big importers; hence we don’t have to produce the energy necessary to make things we consume…

  • Marc

    Interesting topic and debate, thank you!
    Heat pumps don’t make sense everywhere, as said in this post. Vince Dale who founded the Ecotricity company, has a point about gas generated from plants, which allows to keep boilers while avoiding fossil fuels. This is also very debatable (taking land from farmers etc.) but worth a read.
    In my opinion, there is currently no technology allowing us to keep our living standards of rich people AND avoid climate catastrophe. At present, the only way to decrease greenhouse gas emissions is to consume differently, and less (which insulating homes does).

    • Brian Sides

      Good news Marc
      There is no global climate catastrophe that we have to avoid.
      There are local climate catastrophes as there always have been.
      The good news is due to better climate monitoring and better communications.
      Deaths from local climate catastrophe has reduced by over 90 percent.
      In the Philippines they often have to evacuate thousands ahead of tropical storms,
      The global freezing that were predicted in the 1960’s did not come true
      The global freezing that were predicted in the 1970’s did not come true,
      The global heating catastrophes that were predicted in the 1980’s did not come true,
      The global heating catastrophes that were predicted in the 1990’s did not come true,
      The global heating catastrophes that were predicted in the 2000’s did not come true,
      The global heating catastrophes that were predicted in the 2010’s did not come true,
      The global heating catastrophes that have been predicted in the 2020’s have come true,
      A broken clock is correct twice a day they would do better flipping a coin they might get it correct half the time,
      We could get hit by a large meteor maybe we should spend trillions to avoid that possibility.
      But houses will still be built in flood plains and close to forests , people will live in areas prone to tornadoes , hurricanes and tropical storms. They know there is a chance of a local climate catastrophe but they take the risk.
      We will adapt to any local climate change be it warmer , colder , dryer , wetter.
      But if we waste our resources we will be worse off.

      • Clark

        “Good news Marc”

        And this good news shall be preached in all the inhabited Earth so that all the nations hear it,
        and then the end shall come.

        Matthew 24:14

  • Paul

    I’ve been fitting air source heat pumps for a living since 2007, including in my own home in 2008, and it’s quite odd for me to finally see discussion of this technology hit the mainstream.

    I agree with most of what Craig says here, other than a couple of points. A heat pump installation does not typically cost £20,000, and certainly never double that. Depending on the work needed, the normal range is around £10-16,000 for an average house.

    This part – “The efficiency of heat pumps reduces in cold weather. They use more electricity to produce the same amount of heat”. They don’t use more electricity to produce the same amount of heat, they use more electricity to produce more heat because more is lost through the building fabric in colder weather.

    Also the bit about electric auxiliary heating – this should rarely be used if the system is designed properly. For example, in my part of Scotland a system must be designed to heat the building to 21C using the heat pump only at an outside temperature of -4C. If the backup heating is required above this then it has been incorrectly sized. Nearly all of the negative press heat pumps receive is because of poorly designed & sized systems.

    I also have concerns about grid capacity, with the combination of heat pumps & electric vehicles. It seems to be an under-discussed part of the plan. Maybe there’s a magic electricity tree to go with the magic money tree?

    • Marc

      “I also have concerns about grid capacity, with the combination of heat pumps & electric vehicles. It seems to be an under-discussed part of the plan. Maybe there’s a magic electricity tree to go with the magic money tree?”
      Thank you! There is an elephant in the room indeed. UK seems to want to increase output from nuclear power, with large (Hincley Point C) and small plants (SMR) of all sorts.

      • Stevie Boy

        New Nuclear will take at least 10-25 years to come on line. There is no immediate solution to our lack of power needed to support the electric aspirations. Power cuts will follow if we continue on this path.
        The strategy being ‘quietly’ pursued by the government is to have more and more interconnectors with Europe. This means that we will be more and more dependent on Europe for power and our prices for that power will be set by Brussels not Westminster. Another Tory Brexit benefit!

    • Liam Carton

      Re your comment on ‘“The efficiency of heat pumps reduces in cold weather. They use more electricity to produce the same amount of heat”. They don’t use more electricity to produce the same amount of heat…’
      All heat pumps have an efficiency curve that tracks with the difference between source and destination temperature. They need *more* energy to drive heat up the heat gradient when that gradient is steeper (e.g. when the source temperature falls relative to the destination).
      (See for example:
      So Mr Murray is correct, at least if you take him to mean that, as outside temperature falls the energy required to keep the interior at a fixed temperature rises.
      I would also add that heat pumps take a *very* long time to achieve their target temperature when this is significantly higher that ambient.
      All the best.

      • Paul

        Yes you are of course correct, and maybe I misinterpreted Craig’s original point. I took it to be suggesting that the same amount of heat was required while using more energy in cold weather, which I thought I was correcting by saying it uses more energy because it needs to produce more heat for the same effect.

        You are talking about the running efficiency in real time, or COP, which is likely what Mr Murray was getting at.

        As to your point about taking a long time to heat up, yes, a large part of my time as a heat pump installer is waiting for them to ‘do something’! To be expected when going from 30kW+ boilers to 6-16kW heat pumps to heat a home.

    • Alan

      Is the slow pace of upgrading of the grid not a factor already seriously restricting the pace of installing more wind energy ?

      There’s an irony in that the state was very recently still handing out free gas central heating systems to those on low incomes/ benefits who met certain criteria, yet gas is now the evil fuel.

      Just as we were encouraged to use more efficient diesel vehicles and now diesel is also seen as a bad thing. And we are pressed to use electric vehicles also putting pressure on the grid.

      Heartily agree with prioritising insulation first to reduce energy requirement before specifying the new source of heat such as a heat pump.

      • David

        Insulation is good and all. But it is very difficult to retrofit older buildings to modern standards of insulation effectively. And unfortunately the way it is being rolled out encourages new companies to be started to make a short term profit as quickly as possible before declaring bankruptcy. So they push the wrong type of insulation on buildings and often install it badly.

        However, all new builds should be at much higher levels of insulation than is required. That is the stage when it is easy to do. But the big home builders don’t want that as it will reduce profits.

  • Ian Smith

    Heat pumps claim to be 300% more efficient than gas, but the long term running average has electricity 500% more expensive than gas per kW/h. Therefore all other things being equal, no matter how lovely and efficient it all is, is going to virtually double your heating costs. That’s after the £25K to rip out perfectly working systems and replace it with Chinese built crap, and all the additional material and resources added in to provide it.

    Asking the state to take a bigger hand is madness. The state is inherently corrupt, malignant, dishonest, inefficient. We see that the way it deals with covid, climate, procurement, vaccines, foreign conflicts, etc. To put the people in charge of crossrail, the trams, HS2, Calmac ferries, the children’s hospital, in charge of something as vital as heat and shelter is psychotic.

    The climate has never been better than it is now in anyone alive’s lifetimes. There are fewer droughts, heatwaves, famines, tornados, both in number and mroe importantly fatalities. Crop yields have never been higher, health and life expectancy never better. Far fewer people in abject poverty. All brought about by cheap and reliable energy.

    The climate emergency net zero scam is emotionally manipulated extortion over reason.

    • Mark

      I agree with your sentiments.
      The statement “Heat pumps claim to be 300% more efficient than gas” is a completely disingenuous data point as it refers to an ideal operating point where ample thermal mass and temperature differential is available from which to extract heat. This high efficiency would also be seldom exhibited over an entire winter, and at best would apply to only a small percentage of installations. The claim also disregards the electrical generation and transmission losses, which are substantial, and ought to be included in the efficiency calculation. From an economic standpoint it also fails to consider the astronomic cost of upgrading the entire grid if electricity were to replace all gas heating installations, and automobiles with internal combustion engines, on a Terra Watt basis; . But then these are mere quibble points when compared to the unresolved subject of where all this additional energy is going to come from if you wish to live in a future society where electrical power is available on demand after rejecting hydrocarbons and nuclear.

      • Paul

        The 300% figure is very typical for a properly-installed air source heat pump. I’ve been fitting them for over 15 years and see this every day (anywhere from 250-400%).

        It’s a figure for efficiency at point of use, so of course doesn’t take into account transmission losses etc, but neither do figures of 90% for condensing boilers which is what we’re comparing to.

        I don’t know why so much of the marketing for heat pumps is about lowering bills when most people are on mains gas. The running costs for ASHP vs mains gas are near identical. I know this because I removed my own gas boiler to fit one, and have done so for many customers. Historically the electric/gas price ratio has been around 3 to 1, not 5 to 1.

        Heat pumps are not suitable for many properties but there is a lot of misinformation. This applies to both sides, including installers who oversell their capabilities, but there is still a mass lack of understanding about how they work.

  • alexey

    Being unable to heat my (old – 1900 appx) house last winter I turned off the central heating in April 2022, which is super efficient gas system. Simply, a £800 fuel bill wasn’t going to do it. I had previously installed a lot of wood burners on the basis that the apocalypse was en route. So last winter October to March I burned about 19 tons of wood. If you’re missing a pallet, its probably gone up my chimney. I presently have about 10 tons around to get me through until maybe January. This summer has been finding wood for winter, but I have enough space for about 10 ton. Just haven’t got enough space until I’ve burned through it. Needs must! We’ve gone backwards. Wood, I can clear up builders skips for free. Carboard is now recycled as heat.

    • david

      Be careful with what you burn. A lot of wood for construction has various chemicals added as preservatives. Not the best to breathe in when burned.

  • Robbie

    I am a heating engineer, essentially a gas engineer that installs heating appliances for a living. Craig is correct, homes need to be highly insulated for heat pumps to work effectively. You would need to drastically increase the surface area of radiants for them to function efficiently and effectively (triple panel radiators) You do get heat pumps that operate at similar temperatures to gas boilers using a different refrigerant but this drastically compromises the efficiency. Gas boilers are actually super efficient, up to 94% plus in condensing mode, the problem is that they are being retrofitted to systems that are designed for operating temperatures at 70-80 Celsius, which takes them out of condensing range (55 Celsius) and we lose all the benefits of the technology. If you have a gas appliance the best thing you could ever do is over size your radiators and run your boiler much cooler. The upheaval of heat pumps and having to fit hot water storage (unvented cylinders) is certainly worthy of consideration, but yes probably the most prohibitive aspect is the cost.

    • david

      They do work well in Scandinavia for two reasons. One their houses have been very well insulated for a long time for understandable reasons. And secondly they make much more use of underfloor heating which due to its nature does not need to be as warm as a radiator at one end of a room that has to hear the entire room up.

      But retrofitting insulation to existing properties is not always straightforward. And underfloor heating is difficult to add in as well. At least cost effectively.

  • jim doran

    Mr Murray prescribes Big State socialism and then requests payment for doing so.

    If you like this comment, please donate to ….

    • Greg Park

      So do the Tories, New Labour and the British MSM. Difference is they want UK energy and water to be controlled by and profit the governments of other states not our own.

  • Julian Bond

    We’re going to have to do the Grand Electrification of Everything to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. So we need a GEE-Plan. To achieve that we’re going to have to spend money on all of it. For every £1 spent on Nuclear we need to also spend £1 on renewables, £1 on the Grid, £1 on Insulation and other demand reduction measures, and £1 on fossil fuel to electric conversions. And the same on all the other strategies for reducing fossil fuel use. Like electrifying the railways and electric public transport.

    Why is electricity 3 times the price of gas in the UK?

    ps. Sad that these discussions are a magnet for the climate deniers.

    • Brian Sides

      “ps. Sad that these discussions are a magnet for the climate deniers.”

      I am not a climate change denier.
      I know the climate changes every season. The climate in New South Wales is not the same in South Wales
      But I do not accept that the world is entering a period of global boiling as announced by UN secretary general, António Guterres.
      I have seen the predictions of global warming and global climate change over the decades since the 60’s.
      But the predictions have been wrong. With the track record of one wrong prediction after another I have no reason to think the current predictions are correct.

      “We’re going to have to do the Grand Electrification of Everything”

      No we are not going to have to do this. King Cnut in the 10th century new he could not control the waves.
      To think we can control the climate is madness.
      The net result of chasing net zero is higher energy costs.
      Higher energy costs does cost lives as far more people die of the cold than from heat.

      If I crumple a piece of paper the cause and effect of the action is obvious.
      But the cause and effect of what controls the climate are less obvious.
      The effect of any of any action we take on the climate are even less obvious.
      Even those who believe human action has an effect on the climate accept that we are a small island compared to the bigger countries.
      Any contribution we make is dwarfed by the actions of others.

      So to set our self on a course of Grand Electrification of Everything would be the wrong course.
      We can not afford it, we do not have the resources.
      If the climate changes we can adapt in much cheaper and more practical ways.

      • Clark

        “I know the climate changes every season.”

        Then you don’t know the meaning of the word ‘climate’.

        “Even those who believe human action has an effect on the climate accept that we are a small island compared to the bigger countries.”

        The City of London funds around 15% of global fossil fuel extraction.

        “I have seen the predictions of global warming and global climate change over the decades since the 60’s. But the predictions have been wrong.”

        You’ve placed too much faith in the newspapers. There was never a scientific consensus for global cooling, but the newspapers (the New York Times started it, I think) sensationalised less than a handful of papers speculating about the possibility of an immanent ice age. This assertion can be tested, because scientific papers of the 1960s and 1970s haven’t disappeared and can still be reviewed. The newspapers have to sensationalise, so they can sell audiences to advertisers.

    • Steve Hayes

      Electricity is three times the price of gas because it takes two units of gas energy to generate one unit of electric energy and the generators and grid have to be paid for too. But the way prices are set is looney and makes things worse. Apparently all generators, including renewables and nuclear, get paid at the rate of whatever is the most expensive source at the time. So when gas prices shot up tenfold or whatever it was, the renewable and nuclear companies coined it even though their costs hadn’t changed and the users got clobbered twice as badly as should have happened (gas accounts for about half of the total generation). I doubt many other countries use such a batty rule.

      • IMcK

        “Apparently all generators, including renewables and nuclear, get paid at the rate of whatever is the most expensive source at the time”
        Not true, although this may apply to some contracts eg ‘load following’ contracts (generation under speed governor control ie generated output responding to system frequency), standby contracts

  • Edo Velthuis

    I live in an old stone built building with poor insulation. The only way to insulate a building like this is by using external wall insulation, which is expensive, very expensive.

    My question is, if you’re going to go through the process of insulating your home to the highest standards (in order to qualify for heat source) how much of a saving would that make in gas usage alone?

    I don’t see anyone talking about that. If your home is now super well insulated, how much would it cost to heat using your existing boiler?

    • alexey

      Snap. But they told me internal wall insulation: putting 100mm studs along every external wall, filling it up with insulation material, plasterboard over. Not sure how I would get to the sockets so a lot of work to “extend” those by 4inches too. But, as you said, very expensive.

    • Wally Jumblatt

      Yes and no.
      The bulk of UK housing stock is poorly insulated, with heavy cold walls you would need to heat up.
      For such a house type you would be far better lining the inside of the external walls with insulated plasterboard. That way you don’t have to heat all the stone and brick, or keep it warm once you’ve heated it. Insulated render outboard of the masonry means the wall will soak up all the heat you’ve added inside the room, before you get warm.
      Lining the walls is a real hassle (sockets, skirtings, decorations for example), but works.
      Start with your Lounge – and buy electric blankets for your beds.

      – A pellet stove is actually the cheapest form of heating for a wide range of temperatures – and no electricity needed apart from the worm drive and you could run that from solar / battery.

        • glenn_nl

          Causes pollution, though. This is not a great solution for anyone with neighbours, even if we are to believe the wood is “net zero” (unlike Drax, for example).

  • Funn3r

    Amazing that people actually accept “(man-made) climate change” as a truthful fact. Its perpetrators are those “usual suspects” who are already well known to be untrustworthy and who provide no evidence which stands up to scrutiny. The blizzard of insistent messages that ordinary people should get used to being poorer, colder, less mobile, and living on a restricted diet – surely anyone can see that this scam just does not pass the smell test?

    • Anthony

      You must exist in some sort of Facebook rabbit hole. Both main political parties – usual suspects no. 1 – are committed to issuing 100 new licenses for oil and gas drilling. Those are the people who enact policy in this country. Same in the USA where both parties are funded by fossil fuel interests and Biden is building massive new oil pipelines and issuing fracking licenses willy nilly.

      Nonetheless polling in this country has shown very few approve of the bipartisan elite Billionaire oil industry agenda except the most diehard Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer supporters and a few buffoons on Facebook.

    • Clark

      “Amazing that people actually accept “(man-made) climate change” as a truthful fact. Its perpetrators are those “usual suspects” who are already well known to be untrustworthy and who provide no evidence which stands up to scrutiny.”

      Sorry; where would you look for evidence that “stands up to scrutiny”? Do the radiative properties of carbon dioxide and methane come from sources you’d trust? How about polar ice observations, from diverse on-the-ground researchers and all the world’s satellite programmes? And the need to replace the Thames Barrier?

      What about scientists that study Mars and Venus? Are they your “perpetrators” and “usual suspects”? Because they use the same atmospheric science as applied to Earth, but I don’t remember them being in the lobby for the invasion of Iraq.

  • Wally Jumblatt

    I’ve come to the conclusion that most of these ‘pressing’ problems would go away if the mainstream media honestly and objectively reported both sides of the questions.
    That goes for climate change, Trump, Brexit, Ukraine, Nordstream II, Common Purpose, Hunter & Joe Biden, Covid, Vaccines, JFK, 911, Hillary Clinton, Epstein and on and on.
    I’ve also come to the conclusion that EVERY time the government wades in with a pile of money for some sector of society or other, it is almost always totally wasted, and encourages the crooks and chancers all the way up the food chain.
    Remember government first takes the money from you, before it throws it in the wrong direction.

    • Anthony

      Corbyn conspicuously not on that list. The rest of the comment explains why. Cheer up your ideology is still hegemonic in British politics and media. There is no danger of redistribution or any attempt to address massive inequality.

  • Guest

    Heat pumps are best when the house is designed and built to use them.

    So the real question people should be asking is why-o-why are we building houses today that will be need to be expensively retrofitted within a decade?

    i.e. the government focus should have been first to amend building regulations on new builds – and that should have been done at least a decade ago.

    • david

      That should have been the focus. But the large house builders have deep pockets which they are more than happy to buy politicians with to cut down any requirements that will cost them profit.

  • Vivian O’Blivion

    Patrick “dogmatic and narrow-minded” Harvie, Scotland Carbon Zero Buildings Minister refuses to grade hydrogen augmented gas boilers as sufficiently beneficial to meet his zealous approval.
    As with air sourced heat pumps this is a complex, technical area.
    At UK level, the proposal is to augment the existing gas network with up to 20% hydrogen in incremental stages.
    Hydrogen has c. one third (325 Btu/cf) of North Sea gas (1,010 Btu/cf). This would give a delivered blend of 873 Btu/cf, hence the 20% maximum hydrogen concentration without substantial, physical variation to boilers.
    The transition from Town gas (c. 405 Btu/ cf) to North Sea gas required replacement of all burner nozzles.
    Wee Patrick’s disapproval of hydrogen augmented gas supply may be informed by the source of the hydrogen.
    Ineos are pushing hydrogen in a big way. This is almost certainly “grey” hydrogen, that is to say hydrogen derived from splitting CH4. In this hypothetical scenario, the hydrogen is “environmentally friendly” because the resultant CO2 is magically whooshed into Carbon Capture Storage. As Carbon Capture is a pipe-dream, “grey” hydrogen is anything but environmentally friendly.
    Alternatively “Green” hydrogen is produced by splitting H2O. The problem here is the energy required to split H2O is substantial and excess electricity capacity of this magnitude isn’t presently available (and arguably never will be to the degree to produce enough “Green” hydrogen to be meaningful).

    • Brian Sides

      You do not require electricity to split H₂O; it can be done chemically.
      There are currently many companies developing Metal / Air Batteries.
      Aluminium seems the most promising. It does take electricity to produce the aluminium
      But recycled Aluminium – that is aluminium that was produced for other use and would be recycled or thrown away.
      There are many sites and much research. This is just one overview:

      • Vivian O’Blivion

        I’m aware there are catalytical means of reducing the energy required to break the hydrogen bond (and this helps), however the article attached is selling a perpetual motion machine.

    • Steve Hayes

      What I heard from someone working in the field is that the latest electrolysers are 80% efficient (1.25 units of electrical energy to make 1 unit of hydrogen energy) and don’t require rare metals such as platinum. The thing is that raw electric energy from wind turbines and solar panels is cheap so who cares. When the wind blows and/or the sun shines, feed the excess power into nearby electrolysers and send the hydrogen into storage for when it’s needed.

    • David B

      This is a very interesting BTL. But while we are all discussing domestic heating it should be noted that many industrial processes involve gas heating, and the subsequent re-use of the “waste” heat which is then used in drying. Brick production and powdered chemicals for example. The byproduct of hydrogen burning is H₂O which renders the “waste” heat less effective or useless for drying. There are big pictures being ignored. I would also note that much of the industry we have proudly allowed to wane is resurrected in China and India where concerns about pollution and climate change are less prevalent, but which share the same planet as us.

  • Chris

    Climate change denier = Someone who has realised anything your Government and “The Science”(TM) has told you for at least three years has been based on indescribably, wildly, inaccurate computer models that have been demonstrably, completely wrong. Nobody is arguing climate is changing, it always has and always will. The question that we should be debating “Is it realistic to suggest that a gas (CO₂) which is 0.04% of the atmosphere, of which the human generated component is 1%, is controlling the temperature of the planet? Or are we being played? Just go and research how the temperature of the planet is measured in the first place to see how inaccurate and easy to manipulate that number is. Then check out the much more abundant greenhouse gas, water vapour, but nobody is advocating net zero clouds !!!

    • DiggerUK

      Chris, “Then check out the much more abundant greenhouse gas, water vapour, but nobody is advocating net zero clouds”….

      There are lots of “water based greenhouse gas deniers” out there…_

      • glenn_nl

        D: “There are lots of “water based greenhouse gas deniers” out there…_

        No there aren’t. It suits you to pretend there are, for some odd reason.

        Some denialists like yourself appear to think that the warming effects of water vapour and CO₂ have to be mutually exclusive, so if you can show water vapour has the warming effect that you deny exists anyway, then CO₂ must therefore have none.

        On the contrary, this is all part of a feedback loop. Warmer air can hold increased moisture. More CO₂ leads to warmer air. Methane has a much bigger effect again. All very simple to understand to anyone who honestly wants to understand, and easily tested – you can even prove it with home experiments. If you’re interested in the truth, of course – I very much doubt that denialists have any such interest.

        But I will be happy for you to prove me wrong, of course! That’s what science is all about. Let me know the results of your experiments, if you simply don’t believe the very clear and obvious lab demonstrations (on the grounds it’s all lies, a conspiracy, and so forth).

      • Clark

        DiggerUK, you apparently don’t even read the sources you yourself promote. netzerowatch has various articles about the “hot model problem”, which is all about modelling the behaviour of water in the atmosphere.

        It seems that you are almost entirely ignorant of the subject you lobby readers about. That’s propagandistic and grossly irresponsible.

    • Clark

      “Is it realistic to suggest that a gas (CO₂) which is 0.04% of the atmosphere…”

      Is it reasonable to suggest that 0.04% arsenic in your bloodstream would kill you?

      “…of which the human generated component is 1%”

      The human generated component is about (415-280) / 415 which is about one third.

      • IMcK

        – “Is it realistic to suggest that a gas (CO₂) which is 0.04% of the atmosphere…”
        Is it reasonable to suggest that 0.04% arsenic in your bloodstream would kill you?

        I think you are aware these 2 matters are not equivalent.
        Genuine query Clark – Have you an explanation of why such a small change in the atmospheric content should have such a large effect on the greenhouse effect
        In an attempt to head Glenn_nl off at the pass – No, asking a question does not make someone a climate denier

        • glenn_nl

          ImcK: I wouldn’t dare call you a denialist for asking a genuine question. (I would doubt the sincerity of someone acting all incredulously while doing the asking, inviting ridicule on anyone who could believe such a thing. You clearly were not doing that.)

          This link from earlier might help – it has a section directly on point to your question, which is a completely fair one :

          See section “How can CO₂ trap so much heat if it only makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere? Aren’t the molecules spaced too far apart?”

          It also addresses questions about water vapour. Quite reasonable all round.

          If you’re after a more in-depth explanation, this is pretty good :

          • IMcK

            Interesting articles – I should have read them before posing the question.

            The short answer to my query is the properties of CO₂ in regards to absorption/reradiation of the heat energy radiated from the Earth’s surface (such energy being infrared in the thermal spectrum) is significantly different to that of the main constituents of the atmosphere (namely nitrogen and oxygen).

            I was surprised that in describing the ‘energy balance’ to/from the earth the NASA article didn’t state a net energy outflow resulting from the Earth’s internal heat source – or at least explain whether relevant.

        • Clark

          IMcK, yes, I could offer various explanations, all pretty simple but some more simple than others, so I’ll go for the simplest first.

          It’s not a small change in atmospheric content; it’s a 32% increase in the fourth most abundant gas in the atmosphere. And it’s not such a big change in the greenhouse effect – temperature should properly be measured in kelvin, and the average surface temperature is around 288 kelvin. Surface temperature is about 1 kelvin up so far; that’s only a 0.35% increase. So a 32% change in one of the most significant gases has caused only a 0.35% change in temperature; that’s two orders of magnitude less.

          The second simplest is to consider atmospheric absorption of different frequencies of light as essentially the same thing as the colour of a fluid, just by extending the concept of colour beyond the visible spectrum. It takes only a drop of ink to colour a whole tank of otherwise clear water; much less ink than 0.04% of the water. So the misleading claim is equivalent to claiming that a further third of a drop wouldn’t colour the water any darker, ie. the water wouldn’t absorb any more visible light by turning it into heat.

          • Clark

            Oh, and another, possibly even simpler.

            0.04% may not sound like much, but the atmosphere is big, so 0.04% of it is a fick of a lot of CO₂. Let’s pretend for a moment that the other gases aren’t there so that the entire greenhouse effect comes from just the CO₂. The misleading claim is then that increasing this CO₂ atmosphere by 32% could have no effect on the temperature.

  • DiggerUK

    I detect an increased percentage of posters questioning the arguments that support various ‘climate emergency’ positions. I find that a welcome change.

    We now need pragmatic government policies to keep the lights and heating on. That policy must prioritise sufficient and reliable electricity supply. Renewables just don’t fit the bill…_

      • Clark is the website of the Global Warming Policy Forum, a right-wing think tank operating out of 55 Tufton Street, Westminster, along with Civitas, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and the New Culture Forum, and formerly Vote Leave, UK2020, Leave Means Leave, Business for Britain, the European Foundation, and Global Vision. These are all right wing think tanks and lobby groups.

        netzerowatch is clearly, therefore, a political website.

        All the scientific institutions in the world acknowledge and support the scientific consensus that more emissions trap more heat, a fact which you can confirm in your own kitchen with some bottles, thermometers and a heat lamp, and further confirmed by observations of other planets and moons in our solar system.

        DiggerUK therefore gives more credence to a few right wing lobbyists than to any form of scientific investigation, including that which can be done personally.

        • Clark

          And the Global Warming Policy Forum was set up by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, after the Charities Commission found them to be a political lobby group rather than the “educational charity” they were claiming to be.

          Still, we can ignore all that, because the Charities Commission is merely another part of the Grand Scientific Conspiracy, which of course includes the Russian, Chinese, European and US space agencies, all the universities and scientific institutions in the world, and the shipping and fossil fuel companies currently investing north of the Arctic Circle.

          My elephant in the room is why deniers apply such thinking only to climate and covid. How come gravity isn’t a conspiracy? Why shouldn’t parents quiet their troublesome toddler by injecting him with heroin? How come bridges stay up? But no, it’s only those areas of science that right wing think tanks contest that are cause for – “suspicion” isn’t strong enough – rampant paranoia.

  • Lovely

    Interesting and very relevant discussions.

    However, if you really care about the planet and your immediate environment then I am afraid that you are going to have to study the debt based money system that we live under.

    It demands exponential growth in the money supply to pay the interest on the money created previously otherwise it collapses in on itself rather quickly.

    Thus we must have perpetually increasing consumption and rampantly brainless consumerism and dehumanisation built into our money system as the founding principle.

    It can NEVER be sustainable and anyone who says it can is either a fool or a liar.

    So all of these discussions are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or robbing Peter to pay Paul until we change that system.

  • Ian Smith

    Has anyone done an experiment to get a typical semi, adapt one to run on heat pumps, set up thermostats for typical family living patterns and run it for say three years, and compare the energy use and bills for the two houses, plus refurbishment costs.

    Wouldn’t that make a lot of sense before mandating it for society.

    All while bearing in mind that Scotland could sink into the sea, missing CO₂ output would be resorted within one month by the rising demand in Asia.

    Is it really worth taking the risk for absolutely zero overall benefit to the planet?

    • Mark

      “Has anyone done an experiment…”
      Anyone with a good engineering degree can calculate the relative performance and cost effectiveness of the two systems. The result would show that for domestic purposes gas heating is a far better choice that a heat pump; which is effectively an air-conditioning unit ran in reverse.
      To illustrate the point, in the US it is common for homes to have a combined air conditioning and heating systems where the heat source is provided by a gas furnace that is integral to the air-handling unit. By inference this indicates that running the AC unit in reverse, to provide heat, is less advantageous that adding, at increased expense, an additional piece equipment in the form of a gas furnace. If heat pumps were superior this would not be the case.
      And one other point, my AC bill in the US was always far more expensive that the cost to heat my home in Scotland.

  • James

    Point 2. Heat pumps are far more energy efficient than gas boilers. True if looked at in isolation as a contained unit as gas boiler losses are largely due to flue gases emissions. I suspect that if looked at in the round, ie the electrical source of heat pump operation that may shift a bit. The next issue arises that with a major shift from gas to electricity (not to mention a similar rise in demand from increased electrical vehicle usage amongst other things) a negative consequence maybe an impact on the capacity of national electrical power generation and the grid to transmit it, both of which seem to teetering around maximum capacity as it is.

  • Derek Robinson

    We inherited a heat pump when we moved here. We paid through the nose for 5 years, but when the subsidy ran out we were delighted to replace it with a gas boiler.
    We were never warm but it was the price that was the issue then the servicing costs at three times those of gas engineers.
    Maybe they’re what they say but they’re air conditioning units in reverse and we all know how expensive they are.

  • Yuri K

    Heat pumps are most popular in the South-East of the USA, where winters are mild, summers are hot, and electricity is cheap. Their advantage is also in simplicity, cause you have a single system that does both heating and cooling. However, in colder climate, where one does not even need AC, heat pumps do not make sense. Also, if your refrigerant leaks, it will cost you a fortune to replace it.

    When it gets too cold, heat pumps switch into “emergency heating mode” which is basically like a giant hair drier. And your power bill jumps up several times.

    On macro scale, if UK wants to reduce its natural gas consumption, it needs to find where to get the electricity from. In Germany, they could not even accurately estimate how much power they can get from wind mills, so they had to restart digging up coal in some abandoned mines.

  • Simon Roberts

    Craig, interesting article. You touch on a very important point but fail to elaborate. Our generation system already relies on imported electricity. It is not clear if we have sufficient capacity without imports. You acknowledge the substantial additional generation burden resulting from widespread use of heat pumps but do not say how we will generate the enormous additional electricity (and you don’t even mention EV cars). We should start with legislation requiring all new homes to be fitted with substantial solar power systems. A very interesting but very complicated situation. Norway does have a lot of heat pumps but generates a lot of hydro power (which we import) and I believe very limited gas supply (even though it produces a lot of gas).

  • Adrian D.

    I couldn’t agree more Craig – and I’m writing as an owner of a heat-pump which we’ve had for two winters now and I really don’t like it at all.

    We live in nice, temperate, Hove (the posh bit of Brighton for those not familiar) in a 1930s semi-detached house. It is as well insulated as we can get it without filling the cavity walls (which had led to damp issues in every house on the street that has installed it – surveyors suggested getting the cavities filled up within a mile of the sea was not a good idea – I think RICS have guidelines on this). ).

    The heat pump was installed under a government scheme at a total cost of £12,400. We only needed a couple of radiators changed, but otherwise it was all retro fitted using the existing central heating & underfloor heating (which we’d had updated 8 years earlier).

    It took a year to get used to how it worked – needs to be on longer, doesn’t heat the radiators so hot – which took a while as the system itself is simply more complicated than gas (which is more immediate and amenable to control by devices with physical buttons rather than touch screens – this is a big issue as we got on the government scheme due to my visual impairment).

    It has been about £400 cheaper to run than the equivalent gas that we used over the years previously so that investment would take at least 20 years to recoup. But then it costs £250 a year to service – twice as much as the gas boiler ever did – so you can add another 10 years to that.

    All of which would be manageable if it wasn’t for the noise. You’ll see the promo videos of the pumps gently whirring away and not be to concerned – the trouble, as you noted, is that the lower the external temperature, the harder the pump has to work and the louder the noise. Anything under 5 degrees and it’s annoying, anything below zero and it’s a relentless, endless, background thrummmmmmmmm – and we purposefully went for the alleged cheapest on the market (a Mitsubishi). It’s currently nice, relatively new and (as far as we can tell) installed properly. How it will sound after 5 or 10 years is anyone’s guess.

    I know this latter aspect may be a small one, but definitely something to factor in to the considerations – every street in the country will, on those cold, crisp, winter mornings sound like industrial, refrigerated warehouse units. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Steve Hayes

    If you do the arithmetic and, to keep things simple, treat electricity as generated with gas at 50% efficiency: Heat pumps are typically quoted as having a Coefficient of Performance (COP) which is the ratio of heat energy out to electrical energy in (the additional heat comes from the ground source or outside air). The COP for an air source heat pump is typically 3 over the year but can drop to 1.5 in the coldest weather. At 3, it takes 1/3 of a unit of electrical energy for each unit of heat output. That electricity requires 2/3 of a unit of gas heat to produce. If the gas was burned in a modern boiler, it would take about 1.1 units of gas heat so the heat pump is significantly better but not a magic solution.

    During those cold snaps, the heat pump would actually use more gas than the boiler. But the big problem is the amount of electrical power needed during cold snaps and the massive cost of the power stations and grid to supply it while standing idle for the rest of the year. Especially when they can’t be cheap gas-fired stations because of climate change and limited gas supply.

    But insulating existing properties isn’t a magic solution either. Once the easy stuff like loft insulation is done, it gets very expensive; maybe £50,000 per house and is there the workforce to do it?

    My guess is that we need a bit of everything, including hydrogen boilers supplied through the existing gas network with large scale hydrogen storage matching cheap but intermittent wind and solar over the whole year with those winter demand peaks.

    In the end, what we want is decisions made by reasonably impartial experts with all the figures available to them. Something we used to have in government, but nowadays replaced by lobbying, short-termism and spin.

  • Clark

    Community heating systems seem far more promising than heat pumps in every home – after all, no one expects us to extract gas in our own back yards.

    Due to the intermittency of renewable electricity, the wholesale price of electricity quite often goes negative – that’s right, the energy companies pay third parties to take it off their hands. Storing electricity in bulk is difficult and technically complicated, whereas bulk heat can be stored very simply and easily. So when there’s spare electricity, dump it into community heat storage. Electricity is in excess when demand is low, so heat storage doesn’t even require upgrading the grid.

    Politically, however, a heat pump in every home acts like a tax (while also boosting the god of “economic growth”), whereas community heat storage would require government investment. It’s a public sector vs. private sector thing.

    Community heat storage is an opportunity that has been missed before. When nuclear power was expected to deliver electricity “too cheap to meter” and before the potential of North Sea gas was realised, the UK government embarked on a massive programme of encouraging the installation of storage radiators in millions of homes. But with heat storage, bigger is better*; small units are the least satisfactory.

    * Heat capacity increases with the volume of the storage unit, whereas losses increase with the unit’s surface area. Efficiency is therefore proportional to the size of the storage unit. People’s dislike of storage radiators was that their overnight losses made the house too warm for sleeping, leaving too little heat for the daytime. Community heat storage solves this issue.

    • David Warriston

      I think people in the UK have lost the capacity to think in socialist terms. There have been highly thoughtful comments on here about the various advantages of power pumps, gas boilers and nuclear power but very few have addressed the obvious answer in terms of cost and efficiency: a centralised heating system such as Moscow introduced in 1930 and which continues to flourish to this day.

    • Steve Hayes

      In terms of increasing size improving the efficiency of a store, it’s actually even better. It’s not unreasonable to increase the thickness of the insulation in proportion to the dimensions of the store and insulating materials are generally not expensive. Doubling the linear dimensions increases the volume of the store and the insulation eight-fold and the surface area four-fold but, with twice the insulation thickness, the heat loss only doubles. Also, domestic storage heaters were designed to be slim and far from an optimum shape in insulation terms.

    • Pears Morgaine

      Community (and district) heating has drawbacks. Households are tied to one supplier so they can charge whatever they like and there’s little doubt any British government would privatise it; sell the systems off to some private equity bandits who’d up prices, cut back on maintenance and not fix it when it broke down.

      If we’re going to rely more on renewables the storage problem has to be cracked whether that’s massive batteries, pumped storage or whatever. Neither option is going to be cheap.

        • David B

          And anyone in a factored block in Glasgow knows well how that works. When it breaks down you’ll all be frozen to death waiting for the couple of freeriders in your building to part with their share.

  • Rodrigo

    20ºC is excessive. Adequate clothing can make you comfortable at 14ºC, which would save an enormous amount of energy.

    • Ebenezer Scroggie

      14°C? At my age?

      My cat would leave home and my wife would prematurely cremate me in December before even opening her Crimbo prezzie!

    • Stevie Boy

      The problem Rodrigo is that we are all different. What’s comfortable for you may not be comfortable for a Granny in Latvia, for example. We need to treat the problem not the symptoms – and the problem is primarily mentally deficient politicians and their followers.

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