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Heat pumps to phase out gas boilers

Government incentive aims to ramp up installation of heat pumps in homes across the country

By Karen Stylianides | 19 October 2021

Details of the Heat and Buildings Strategy have been released by the government. The document comes two weeks before the prime minister hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland. The eagerly awaited policy includes the government’s plan for reducing the carbon emissions of home heating across the country. This forms part of its commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. There’s an emphasis on heat pumps as a solution for greener home heating.

View of open plan living room with concrete walls and floor

A 8.5-kilowatt air source heat pump warms this home in Hull. Photo: Andy Haslam

Heat pumps promise

At the heart of the plan are measures to encourage the take up of low-carbon heating to reduce reliance on fossil fuel-powered systems. Heat pumps are the frontrunners in the race to implement low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers. Air-source heat pumps (ASHP) transfer warmth from the outdoor air to indoors. Ground-source heat pumps (GSHP) draw warmth from beneath the ground. Both systems run on electricity. Good insulation helps to ensure a home reaps the most economic benefit.

But the cost is a barrier to uptake for many. Currently, an air-source heat pump costs from £8,000-10,000, and a ground-source heat pump from around £13,000. In a bid to reduce this expense, the new Boiler Upgrade Scheme will make £5,000 grants available to reduce the cost of low-carbon heating. Running over a three-year period from April 2022, the initiative has £450 million in funding.

Greener homes

The hope is that the Boiler Upgrade scheme encourages homeowners to replace their worn out gas boiler with a heat pump. Manufacturers and the government are consulting on solutions to drive down the price of heat pumps and make them on a par with fossil fuel boilers by 2030. Providing ministers succeed in reducing the price of electricity over the next decade, by shifting levies away from electricity bills, the running costs should be no higher either.

The government has already pledged to achieve 600,000 installations every year by 2028. There’s a way to go. Industry figures show about 35,000 heat pumps sales in the UK in 2019, while gas boilers sales reached 1.67 million. Predictions estimate that the 2021 sales figures will see an increase in both sectors.

Exterior of new build home in the style of a Dutch barn house

A GSHP keeps this 5-bedroom Lincolnshire self-build home cosy. Photo: Andy Haslam

Urgent need for skills and innovation

Earlier this year the government cut short its Green Homes Grant. The initiative was designed to reduce the cost of a variety of energy-efficiency measures and low-carbon heating. But initial funding to the tune of £2 billion pounds was cut back to £320 million in February 2021. Vouchers worth up to £5,000 were available, payable to a Trustmark-registered installer post installation.

Criticisms of the scheme centred around the complicated application process and the shortage of installers. Details of how the Boiler Upgrade Scheme will work are still to come. But a £60 million Heat Pump Ready innovation programme will support advances in making systems smaller, easier to install and cheaper to run. ‘The industry is ready, with the capacity to train up to 40,000 installers per year to ensure consumers can find a trained and skilled engineer,’ says Phil Hurley of the Heat Pump Association.