UK trailing most European countries on putting heat pumps in homes, figures show

·3-min read
Housing accounts for 14% of UK emissions, mostly from home heating (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)
Housing accounts for 14% of UK emissions, mostly from home heating (Joe Giddens/PA) (PA Archive)

The UK is lagging behind most European countries in selling and installing low carbon heat pumps to clean up the emissions from heating homes, data show.

Britain came joint last out of 21 European countries for heat pump sales last year, with just 1.3 sold for every 1,000 households, figures provided to Greenpeace UK by the European Heat Pump Association reveal.

At the other end of the scale, Norway saw 42 heat pumps sold per 1,000 households in 2020, followed by 39 for Finland and 29 for Estonia.

And the UK comes second last, above only Hungary, for the proportion of homes which have had heat pumps installed to date, providing a cleaner alternative to gas or oil-fired boilers for heating and hot water.

If the Government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale

Doug Parr, Greenpeace UK

Just 10 in 1,000 or 1% of UK households have heat pumps installed, up to the end of 2020, compared with 60% of Norwegian homes and 43% of Swedish households, the figures suggest.

UK housing’s energy use is responsible for around 14% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, with the vast majority of British homes heated by fossil gas-fired boilers that produce carbon dioxide, as well as local air pollution.

Cleaning up the pollution from homes will require households to move to cleaner heating alternatives, such as heat pumps which use electricity to generate heat from the air or ground.

Heat pumps are much more efficient in generating energy than gas boilers, but currently have much higher upfront installation costs, of around £10,000 for an air source pump and more for a ground source kit, though some suppliers have said costs could fall rapidly.

The Government is expected to announce plans to cut carbon emissions from heating homes, offices and other properties shortly to help meet the UK’s legally-binding goal to cut greenhouse gases to zero overall by 2050.

It has already said it wants to see 600,000 heat pumps installed each year by 2028, but current levels of installation are well below that.

We are confident that the upfront costs will fall in the coming years, and we will look to help the market drive down these costs

Business Department spokesman

Greenpeace said the slow roll-out of clean sources of home heating is a missed opportunity to create new long-term, green jobs and boost economic growth, and risks undermining the UK’s efforts to cut carbon from homes and meet its climate commitments.

The environmental group is urging the Government to offer grants that make the upfront costs of installation and complementary energy efficiency measures the same as as replacing a gas boiler, with the entire cost covered for low income families.

This would require new public investment of £4.76 billion in the forthcoming spending review, with a further £7 billion for energy efficiency measures to sufficiently cut emissions from housing, Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said: “The UK already has the draughtiest homes in western Europe, now we’re last when it comes to clean heating too.

“If the Government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale.

“This means substantial grants for heat pump installations, especially for the poorest families, removing VAT on green home technologies and a phase out of gas boilers early next decade,” he said.

A Business Department spokesperson said the Government was committed to “greatly accelerating the UK’s deployment of heat pumps from around 35,000 this year, to 600,000 a year by 2028”.

They said: “We are confident that the upfront costs will fall in the coming years, and we will look to help the market drive down these costs.

“We will set out how this will be achieved in the forthcoming Heat and Buildings Strategy, with fairness and affordability for both households and taxpayers at the heart of our plans.”

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