Slough is a UK town that could be known as the place where low carbon heating became affordable. Whether that comes to pass depends on the success of Octopus Energy, a company which has built a £10 million shed there. Inside there are two typical three-bed UK homes, one that is indicative of houses built since the turn of the millennium, while the other is an average home built in the 1970s, replete with a pink bathroom suite. The facility will be used for heat pump training and research and development, with the aim of hitting what I think is a wildly ambitious goal: cutting the typical £10,000 installed cost of an air source heat pump in half. Too many heat pump installs today are one-offs for large, middle-class homes in the countryside, says Greg Jackson, founder of Octopus Energy, but the technology needs to be ready for the mass market. What’s the problem with heat pump installs today? One is that there simply aren’t that many people installing them. There are around 1000 engineers in the UK that are certified to install the most common type of heat pump, the air source kind that extracts warmth from the air outside your home. An air source heat pump for a typical three-bed UK home costs around £10,000 to install, with labour and hardware each making up roughly half the bill. With a replacement gas boiler costing in the region of £2000 to £3000, this means heat pumps are still a hard sell beyond the huge carbon dioxide savings they deliver. Another piece of the puzzle is the running costs. A well-installed heat pump should output three units of energy for every one that goes in. But because it runs on electricity, and because social and environmental levies account for about a quarter of electricity bills, running a heat pump can cost as much as 50 per cent more than a gas boiler. That’s why Clark wants to see – as do many others – such levies come off electricity, perhaps shifting onto gas, a much more carbon-intensive fuel. In the meantime, data that Clark has drawn from 1000 anonymised customers with heat pumps points to another route. It shows their running costs drop to being roughly on par with gas boilers on a time-of-use tariff, where your cost of electricity goes up and down in real-time depending on demand.
Fix the Planet 16th Sept 2021 read more »