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Govt finally admits installing heat pumps can cost up to £35,000 and could increase fuel bills

Heat pumps could cost homeowners up to £35,000 each, can emit noise which breaches legal limits and could increase fuel bills, the government has admitted. The green heating systems, which work by absorbing heat from the environment, are a core part of the government’s plans to make homes more energy efficient to help it achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Ground Source Heat Pump Association chair Laura Bishop said the government had provided no promises on how it would incentivise homeowners to install heat pumps. But the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said it faces a number of challenges in persuading homeowners to install the devices and conceded that it was “uncertain” what the “optimal solution” was. At an online event for the industry on the issue last month, BEIS outlined the obstacles which it faces in achieving its target of installing 600,000 heat pumps each year by 2028 in the 24.5 million homes that need them. It said that installation takes an average of 2.5 days but could take “several weeks” because of the need of some customers for a new electricity connection or fuse upgrade from the distribution network operator, while radiators and pipework might also need to be replaced. It said that air source heat pumps, which generate heat from the air, can create noise that could breach permitted development regulations if too close to a neighbour’s window, which it admitted could be difficult to avoid in many buildings. And it said that many homes will not have enough space for the kit, which includes either an outdoor unit or ground array, added piping, a control unit, a hot water tank and a buffer tank. Aesthetics are another issue, with one in 16 ‘green early adopters’ being dissatisfied with how the heat pumps looked once installed. BEIS said that cost is also a barrier to widespread adoption. Air source heat pumps are priced between £7,000 and £14,000 while ground source heat pumps, which get heat from holes drilled into the ground, cost from £15,000 to £35,000, with installation prices driven up further by the limited number of trained installers. There are currently around 3,000 to 4,000 heat pump installers in the UK, compared to more than 130,000 gas boiler installers, but BEIS admitted that issues remain with “installation quality and consistency” even among those who are trained to install heat pumps. It added that if the systems were poorly installed or fitted in buildings with high heat losses, they could increase fuel bills. Laura Bishop, director of renewable energy engineering consultancy Infinitas Design and chair of the Ground Source Heat Pump Association (GSHPA), said the government had so far provided no clarity to the heat pump industry on how it plans to incentivise uptake. Admitting that many homeowners would not be able to afford heat pumps at the current prices, she said: “It’s an issue because what we need is the volume to make the price come down but we still don’t have any promises from the government. “If costs don’t come down because we’ve not been promised the volume, we’ll still be here in five years with the same prices.” She said that that she “fully expects” the government’s heat and building strategy, which is set to be announced in the next few weeks, will contain “contentious points”. “It’s going to be a very delicate policy. On the one hand, the government has got very stringent and very ambitious net zero targets but on the other hand they’ve got to balance up how that’s going to effect real people.” But she added that if the government does not do something “drastic”, it will never be able to hit its net zero targets. Building News, 1 June 2021

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