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Labour’s drive to retrofit homes must not rely on heat pumps

12 Nov 2020
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Low carbon electricity to drive heat pumps simply does not exist and will not exist in the UK for several decades

GMB, the union for energy workers, has warned Labour’s drive to retrofit homes must not prematurely rely on heat pumps.

Labour this week released its plan for a green economic recovery.

While the proposal does not mention heat pumps it outlines a scheme to ‘expand energy efficiency and retrofit programmes’.

GMB warns this must not include a move from domestic gas to heat pumps – which would cost up to £28,500 per home and rely on low carbon electricity which won’t be ready for decades.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said:

“Scraping good heating systems and replacing them with heat pump systems would be a very expensive jump from the frying pan into the fire.

“There are four very good reasons to deal with domestic gas use later in the timescale in the transition to a net zero carbon emissions economy by 2050.

“Firstly, gas is considered by the climate change bodies as an intermediate fuel because it has much lower levels of carbon emissions than either coal or oil. The use of these should be phased out first.

“Second the option of replacing gas with zero carbon electricity - for electric heating with or without heat pumps – is premature, as this low carbon electricity simply does not exist yet and will not exist in the UK for several decades. Until zero carbon electricity is available it is necessary to stick with gas.

“Third, as an alternative to electrification, there are several zero-carbon emissions “green gas” options already being trialled, which would keep the gas grid, but change the gas carried by it.

“Fourth, the research and development of these alternative options needs to be allowed to become sufficiently mature to assess their viability and anticipated costs, before any irreversible strategic decision is made on how best to replace natural gas.

“These are very practical issues. What promoters of heat pumps systems don’t stress is the fundamental issue - that heat pumps are not a renewable energy source. They require electricity to drive them, and what is being proposed is a huge increase in electricity demand.

“According to one estimate, a straight replacement of gas heating with, for example, electric storage heating would require additional generating capacity 4 times existing capacity, and using mainly heat pumps would require additional capacity 2.5 times existing capacity.

“Even if zero carbon electricity were available, the installation of heat pumps systems is prohibitively expensive. A recent government report set out typical costs per household of between £14750 and £28,500, plus writing off the boilers and radiators in homes. The lifetime of a heat pump is similar to a gas boiler, so they would need replacing every 10 to 15 years. Although heat pumps are an efficient form of electric heating, because of the difference in price between gas and electricity, the majority of households would face higher bills.”

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