Majority of UK homes not suitable for a heat pump, says report

A new report published by the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) concludes that heat pumps alone will not solve the question of UK domestic heat decarbonisation, and therefore must be supported by other heating solutions, including a hydrogen gas network, if the UK is to deliver on its net zero ambitions. Put together in partnership with Leeds Beckett University and UK gas distribution networks Cadent, Northern Gas Networks, SGN and Wales & West Utilities, ‘Decarbonising heat in buildings: putting consumers first’ takes a deep dive into UK housing stock old and new.

The report explores the challenges of retro-fitting various low carbon heating technologies into dwellings vastly differing in size, age and construction, as well as customer acceptance of these solutions. It also highlights that although energy efficiency will be crucial to net zero targets, some measures supporting heat pump rollout will be intrusive to install, and less acceptable to energy customers.

In addition to examining external building fabric, the report recommends further analysis should be undertaken to consider the internal system changes needed for heat pumps and hydrogen boilers. This includes the suitability of radiators for the low carbon transition, and changes to hot water cylinders should combi boilers be replaced with heat pumps.

While accepting that for between 7 and 10 million homes there are no limiting factors to the installation of a heat pump, the EUA report argues that the level of disruption and association costs, as well as lack of available space, mean that they represent an optimal solution for only a minority of existing properties. The independent analysis finds that for 8 to 13million homes – 37% to 54% of the 22.7 million homes using gas –  lack of exterior space and thermal properties of building fabric mean a heat pump is not capable of meeting the space requirement of the property, or can only do so through disruptive measures such as solid wall insulation. It is recommended that their use must be supported by a decarbonised gas network carrying a gas such as hydrogen, zero carbon at the point of use.

Up to 4 million homes could be made suitable for heat pump retrofit through energy efficiency measures such as cavity wall insulation. However, levels of disruption to customers through installation, as well as the cost of significantly upgrading the electricity distribution network to cope with large numbers of heat pumps operating at peak time, mean these properties may be better served through gas-based technology and a decarbonised gas network.

It is suggested that the UK’s gas transportation infrastructure can be converted incrementally from natural gas to hydrogen – zero carbon at the point of use – to support the switchover with limited disruption to customers in their homes.

In welcoming the report, Mike Foster, CEO of the EUA, says: “Heat pumps will play a key role in the future of heat, however it’s important to recognise that for them to work effectively as the sole heating source, the building needs to be thermally efficient, and they require internal and external space as well as changes to internal systems such as radiators.

“Levels of disruption to people in their homes and associated costs mean heat pumps will be a solution for a minority of properties only, so hydrogen, biogas and hybrid systems need to play a significant role in the decarbonisation of heat in order to support our 2050 net zero ambition. This analysis shows a house-by-house heating solution is needed, and any thoughts to carve up the UK and force regional solutions upon consumers will be doomed to fail.”

To read the full report, download it here.

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