Most Brits don’t have a clue about the heat pumps

Heat pumps: Kensa Contracting install heaters in Thurrock

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The Government could be facing a major obstacle as it scrambles to install hundreds of thousands of heat pumps each year after a report found that the majority of homeowners are not confident in the low-carbon boiler alternatives, data from a science building centre has revealed. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) figures show that most UK homeowners do not feel at all confident explaining how heat pumps work (62 percent).

Meanwhile, less than half of homeowners (42 percent) have heard of the Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme. This scheme offers £5,000 grants for heat pump installations to slash the typical £10,000 costs of the low-carbon home heating system.

The eye-watering prices for the average home, without the grant, are generally perceived as a significant barrier for the Government, which has an ambitious target of rolling out 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.

However, if BRE’s figures are anything to go by, it may be a tough ask to encourage people to swap out their boilers with these alternative options, perhaps suggesting a bump in the road as the UK scrambles to reach net zero by 2050.

This could be particularly concerning for Westminster given that it also intends on slapping a ban on new oil and gas boiler installations by 2025, and other homes by 2035. But according to the BRE, 88 percent of British homes are still heated by natural gas.

The BRE’s damning report, Decarbonising Heat in Britain’s Buildings, suggests that the lack of public awareness, coupled with slow momentum on energy efficiency changes such as installing installations, could mean natural gas will still be used to power homes for years to come.

This is despite the fact that gas prices are determined by volatile global markets, threatening to send household bills soaring, as millions of households have seen amid Russia’s war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, ground source heat pumps provide renewable heating, and require little-to-no electricity to run.

Gillian Charlesworth, CEO of BRE, said: “Improving consumer awareness of heat pumps will help to boost demand over the long-term and, ultimately, bring the UK closer to its net zero target.

“Whilst this awareness programme continues, we would also like to see government implement a national retrofit strategy that will improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock by further accelerating the roll-out of measures such as insulation.

“Our latest polling shows that there is a clear knowledge gap around the benefits of heat pumps which needs to be addressed if we are to deliver meaningful, lasting change and decarbonise the UK’s inefficient buildings. Neither the Government nor the public can afford to waste this opportunity – and keeping up current momentum in this area will be vital.”

However, while public awareness may be lacking, energy companies are doing their best to turn the tide. This week, British Gas sparked a pricing war for heat pumps with other major firms, such as rival company Octopus Energy, to trigger market competition and make the boiler alternatives more affordable.

British Gas has set a starting price of £2,999 per install for an air source heat pump. This is just £1 lower than the £3,000 starting price for a standard installation offered by Octopus.

Andrew Middleton, managing director of British Gas’s new net zero business division, said: “Heat pumps are an essential part of the UK’s journey towards a decarbonised future.

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“We recognise that many households are being cautious with their spending in the current climate and want to do all we can to make this technology more affordable – so that those customers who can make the move to low carbon heating feel compelled to do so now.”

Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, global product director at Octopus Energy, said: “We often disagree with the incumbents but on this occasion, we’re delighted – unleashing market forces is what’s needed to quickly bring down prices and roll out heat pumps across the country.

“We’re more than happy to enter a price war over green heating with British Gas – bring it on!”

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