Next Steps for UK Heat Policy

October 2016


The Committee on Climate Change has just released its report "Next steps for UK heat policy" which gives a ringing endorsement to the use of heat pumps for low-carbon heating.

GSHPA welcomes the report and the key messages that focus on heat pumps as the leading low-carbon heating option for buildings.

The Report notes that, "Heating and hot water for UK buildings make up around 40% of our energy consumption and 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It will be necessary to largely eliminate these emissions by around 2050 to meet the targets in the Climate Change Act and to maintain the UK contribution to international action under the Paris Agreement. Progress to date has stalled. The Government needs a credible new strategy and a much stronger policy framework for buildings decarbonisation".

GSHPA agrees that a much stronger policy for buildings decarbonisation is urgently needed.

The Report says,"The main options for the decarbonisation of buildings on the gas grid in the 2030s and 2040s are heat pumps and low-carbon hydrogen". However, the report notes that "Heat pumps remain a niche option in the UK as previous policies have failed to deliver a significant increase in uptake".

GSHPA welcomes the acknowledgement that previous policies have failed to deliver a significant increase in uptake of heat pumps. It is time for Government to recognise that the surest route to low-carbon heating is to provide the appropriate support for ground source heating and, in the commercial context, ground source cooling.

The Report is also enthusiastic about "low-carbon hydrogen". It is true that H2 contains no carbon and burning it produces only H2O (and no CO2). The report acknowledges that "To produce hydrogen in a low-carbon way at the necessary scale would require carbon capture and storage (CCS) – whilst this is technically well understood, it remains undeveloped".

The costs, risks and uncertainties of developing CCS are all in the future. Heat pumps are available and efficient here and now.

Heat pumps produce no CO2 on site, and decreasing amounts of CO2 at the power stations as the grid is decarbonised.

Ground source heat pumps can also provide thermal energy storage in the ground from summer to winter.

Ground source heat pumps are ideally matched to district heating systems which share a common ground array.

What should the UK Government do now?

Individuals, and individual companies, will not benefit directly from reducing their own carbon emissions – unless others do so too. Thus the responsibility for reducing the UK's carbon emissions rests squarely with the Government – because only a collective approach will make a difference.

It is the UK Government which has backed the Paris Agreement and it now needs to take real steps to reduce carbon emissions from the UK. The UK is very unlikely to reach its current carbon reduction targets without concerted action from Government.

Next steps for the Government

The pressing needs now for the UK are to:

To decarbonise heating we need to put a stop to combustion of carbon compounds. The alternative is to use heat transfer for heating. That means using heat pumps now.

Does the Government yet recognise that ground source energy and recycling solar heat through the ground (from summer to winter) is the surest route to saving energy and reducing carbon emissions from heating?

Does the Government yet recognise that ground source energy and recycling cold through the ground (from winter to summer) is the surest route to saving energy and reducing carbon emissions from cooling?

The Report calls for energy saving and joined up thinking. Let's hope the Government can see the connection between renewable heating and renewable cooling, because energy recycling is the ultimate energy saving measure.

The Government has a mechanism called the Renewable Heat Incentive to encourage the use of ground source heat pumps to reduce carbon emissions from heating non-domestic buildings and has so far spent just £7.5 million over five years across England, Scotland and Wales: less than £2 million a year.

The Government has suggested that subsidies for renewable energy should be reduced in times of austerity.

The subsidy on reduced VAT for domestic energy bills for gas, coal and oil in the UK was calculated at £3,971million for 2011 by the OECD.

Can we hope that the Government will see fit to begin to redress this balance in the light of the UK's support of the Paris Agreement?

The level of tax on domestic gas in the UK is the lowest in the EU. The cost of domestic gas in Sweden is 72% higher than in the UK. The Swedish heat pump installed capacity is eight times larger than in the UK (although Sweden has a lower population than the UK).

Silver Bullet for Decarbonisation of Buildings

It has been said that "there is no silver bullet for the decarbonisation of buildings". We disagree. The Silver Bullet is called "ground source energy".


The full report on Next steps for UK Heat Policy is available here.


See Renewable Heating          See Renewable Cooling