Environmental Audit Committee to consider the merits and drawbacks of rolling out heat pumps

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The Environmental Audit Committee has announced that it will look at electrical, gas and hybrid heat pumps, marking the next phase of its Technological Innovation and Climate Change inquiry.

Heat pumps transport heat from one location (such as the air outside) to another (such as a hot water system inside) using a small amount of external energy, which is often electricity.

The technology could play a major role in decarbonising heat, which in domestic, industrial and commercial settings currently accounts for over a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, commented on the announcement: “If the UK is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we need to accelerate the rolling out of technologies that can get us there.

“The purpose of the Committee’s work in this area is to examine whether new, low-carbon technologies can keep the lights on and our homes warm.

“Heat pumps are playing an increasingly significant role in decarbonising heat in other countries.

“I look forward to the Committee examining why this has yet to take off across the UK, hearing from the sector on whether rolling out heat pumps is feasible at scale and what barriers exist to wider adoption.

“We hope our findings can help inform the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy as it pioneers the course of the new Green Industrial Revolution.”

The Committee on Climate Change has said that to meet the commitment to reach net-zero by 2050, 19 million heat pumps will need to be installed and that hybrid heat pumps should be widely used by 2035.

The Prime Minister has recently spoken on the role ground-source heat pumps could play in the ‘green industrial revolution’, and in its report, 80% of Climate Assembly UK members agreed that heat pumps should play a role in getting the UK to net-zero.

However, there are current limitations to rolling out the technology.

For example, heat pumps are currently more expensive that conventional options such as gas-fired boilers.

A recent briefing paper by the UK Energy Research Centre highlighted record sales of gas boilers last year, with current rates suggesting it will take 700 years for the UK to move to low-carbon heating.

Electrical grids would also need to be significantly expanded to facilitate the extra capacity that electric heat pumps would require.

The Environmental Audit Committee will be considering these issues, and more, before sharing its findings and recommendations with Government on the role heat pumps can play in reaching net-zero.

The Committee is inviting written submissions to inform its forthcoming evidence session, which should focus on, but not be limited to:

  • What steps can the Government take to increase uptake of heat pumps?
  • How can we ensure that the regulatory frameworks in place work together to guarantee heat pumps are used in the most effective places, alongside other technological solutions?
  • What steps can be taken to lower heat pump installation costs?
  • What role should gas or hybrid heat pumps play in helping the UK reach the target of net zero emissions by 2050?
  • How can the Government tackle the current skills gap for designers, builders and installers of heat pumps?
  • How can public awareness of heat pumps be improved?

Evidence can be submitted until Friday 6 November 2020.

More information about the Inquiry and how to take part is available here