Research conducted by Oxford University and the Regulatory Assistance Project thinktank has revealed that heat pumps significantly outperform fossil fuel heating systems, even in extremely cold conditions.
This study shows that at temperatures near -30°C, heat pumps are more than twice as efficient as oil and gas heating systems. These findings are particularly significant in the context of the global push for sustainable energy solutions and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The adoption of heat pumps has been increasing in many countries, particularly as fossil fuel energy prices have surged in the wake of global geopolitical events, such as the invasion of Ukraine. Governments worldwide are striving to transition to more eco-friendly heating technologies.
However, the United Kingdom has fallen behind in this transition. France, for example, has installed ten times as many heat pumps as the UK. The slow uptake in the UK is attributed to the public’s unfamiliarity with heat pumps and doubts regarding their effectiveness, particularly in colder climates. Despite their successful use in places like Scandinavia, skepticism lingers.
The research, published in the energy research journal Joule, analysed data from seven field studies conducted in North America, Asia, and Europe. The results indicate that heat pumps are between two and three times more efficient than oil and gas heating systems when temperatures fall below zero. This suggests that heat pumps are a viable option for nearly all homes in Europe, including the UK, and underscores the need for swift policy measures to promote their widespread adoption.
Dr Jan Rosenow, the director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project and co-author of the report, said: “There has been a campaign spreading false information about heat pumps [including casting doubt on whether they work in cold weather]. People [in the UK] don’t know much about heat pumps, so it’s very easy to scare them by giving them wrong information.”
The UK government is currently considering proposals to incentivise households to transition to heat pumps, which can initially cost around £7,000 or more—two to three times the upfront cost of gas boilers. Boiler companies could also face penalties if they fail to meet quotas for heat pump sales, encouraging their adoption.
While some critics argue that these quotas might increase costs for consumers, it is clear that the UK is increasingly out of step with the global trend toward low-carbon heating solutions. The urgency of transitioning to more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly heating technologies is growing more apparent with each passing day.
Yannick Monschauer, an energy analyst at the International Energy Agency, said: “Worldwide, the share of heat pumps in heating equipment sales is set to more than double by 2030 under today’s policies, as deployment also accelerates in colder climates.”
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