Imperial College London

Heat pump roll-out must be urgent home heating priority for government

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Thermostat for home heating

The government must focus on deploying currently available low-carbon heating solutions to rapidly cut home heating emissions, a new report concludes.

The Future of Home Heating: The Roles of Heat Pumps and Hydrogen, a briefing paper produced by independent experts from Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab and commissioned by the MCS Charitable Foundation through Imperial Consultants, concludes that hydrogen infrastructure is not going to be viable for domestic heating applications at scale for at least the next decade.

The government should instead focus on deploying solutions which are available now, including heat pumps, energy efficiency improvements and heat networks, and introduce new supports to make heat pump technologies more affordable for householders, the authors said.

In the near-term, the government should focus its efforts on improving heat pump products and their affordability and supporting industry to rapidly scale up production of the technology in the UK Dr Richard Hanna Co-Author, The Future of Home Heating

UK homes are currently responsible for approximately 23% of carbon emissions, with the use of gas boilers a major contributor, but the report points to research that shows that replacing the gas network with hydrogen infrastructure would be a more expensive solution than installing heat pumps and could lead to a long delay in tackling emissions. 

 “With further investment in research and demonstration, hydrogen has potential to help decarbonise challenging sectors like industry and shipping, but right now there is not a strong case for using it to heat our homes,” said Imperial’s Dr Richard Hanna, one of the co-authors of the report. 

“In the near-term, the government should focus its efforts on improving heat pump products and their affordability and supporting industry to rapidly scale up production of the technology in the UK.” 

Increasing energy efficiency levels of existing housing stock, green financing and long-term grants to increase the rollout of heat pump technology would provide a boost to stimulate market growth and create tens of thousands of new jobs, the report found. Similar long-term initiatives in Germany, France and Italy have supported significant increases in heat pump installation rates over the past decade.

Through investment the UK can replicate what we’ve seen in many European countries, where concerted action has benefitted the low-carbon heating sector. David Cowdrey Director of External Affairs, MCS

David Cowdrey, Director of External Affairs at MCS, said: “This report clearly shows that hydrogen will not play any significant role in domestic heating in the next ten years, and may not be a viable option until 2050. It is time for the government to back proven, off-the-shelf, zero-carbon solutions like heat pumps, which can be scaled up rapidly and electrify domestic heat.

“Through investment the UK can replicate what we’ve seen in many European countries, where concerted action has benefitted the low-carbon heating sector,” he said, adding that there was a “danger that pursuing hydrogen distracts us from the solutions that are available today.”

The report recommends the establishment of a heat pump council to coordinate consumer engagement and calls for investment in a national research, testing and training facility to ensure that heat pumps are designed and fitted to appropriate standards, boosting consumer confidence in the technology.  

At present, hydrogen is predominantly derived from fossil fuels in energy intensive production processes, but it is possible to produce ‘green hydrogen’ by electrolysis powered by renewables. The authors recommend clear standards be put in place to distinguish hydrogen by origin and call for support for the development of electrolysers in the UK. 

Hydrogen, the report concludes, should be used strategically and would be best deployed in sectors which are hard to electrify such as shipping and aviation and used for heating only in areas where production is located close to industrial clusters. 

The Future of Home Heating: The Roles of Heat Pumps and Hydrogen is available to download now from the Energy Futures Lab website

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Conor McNally

Conor McNally
Faculty of Engineering

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