Incentives for heat pumps, and how they can help reduce carbon emissions

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There are many incentives for heat pumps such as the system pictured here

The Government and many of the rest of us interested in green issues know that we have to meet certain obligations when it comes to reducing the country’s carbon footprint. While those in the solar and wind industry might be complaining about loss of subsidies, one area that is set to benefit over the next few years is heating.

It’s estimated that around 40% of our carbon emissions come from heating our homes and businesses. So, if we can switch away from fossil-fuel based systems, the UK could go a long way to meeting those obligations.

The Renewable Heat Incentive

Key to changing from high carbon- and greenhouse-gas-producing heat systems to low carbon or no carbon ones is the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive or RHI. Introduced in 2011 to promote technologies such as combined heat and power (CHP) boilers and heat pumps, it has largely sat in the background since that time because of the focus on technology like solar and wind. Some businesses have taken it up, though, benefitting from reasonably generous subsidies that pay for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of heat produced.

But it has been nowhere near as popular as the feed-in tariffs that were available for technologies such as solar and wind.

This may be about to change. There are rumours that the government could increase RHI on technology such as heat pumps as early as next march. The intention is clear – to give businesses and homes the incentive to move to cleaner forms of heating that help reduce the impact of global warming. Currently the payments for the RHI range from 7.51 pence per kWh for air-source heat pumps and 19.33 pence per kWh for ground-source heat pumps. These payments are made quarterly for the first seven years. Those installing the new heating, therefore, can get a decent return on investment if they choose the right one for their property.

heat-pump-coil

What are Heat Pumps?

Most of us have a form of heat pump in our homes already. Our freezers and fridges use a similar system to keep food and drinks chilled – they remove heat from inside the fridge or freezer and dump it at the back of the appliance. A heat pump simply does this in the reverse. It takes low heat from the outside which is absorbed into a fluid via a series of pipes. This goes into a compressor which then increases the temperature and this is passed into the household or business heating system. It can be used to heat water and provide internal heating.

There are different sources that can be used depending on your property. The most easily installed is the air-source heat pump, which fits to the side of a building and draws in the heat from the air outside. A ground-source heat pump requires a more complex system of pipes to be laid in the garden around a property, which means that it costs more, but is more efficient compared to air-source heat pumps. Water-source heat pumps are also available.

The benefits of installing a heat pump are that it can greatly reduce your fuel costs, particularly if you are replacing an electrical system. There’s the cut in carbon emissions too and, of course, access to the RHI which can deliver extra savings. Heat pumps are also low-maintenance.

heat-pump-inside

A point to consider with heat pumps at the moment is that you need a home that is well insulated. This is because they deliver their heat at much lower temperatures than conventional systems. That means, for example, you will probably need to keep the system on all the time to heat your home or business properly. There are new developments, however, that could see higher temperatures which will suit older homes and be more efficient than traditional heating.

How the potential changes to the Renewable Heat Incentive pan out over the next year or so is not yet entirely clear. But if the government is committed to reducing carbon emissions then this might well be a good time to get the technology installed. With the initial cost being offset by cheaper fuel bills and payment from the RHI, it could be a pretty good way to cut down your carbon emissions.