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Energy secretary: Heat pumps ‘worse’ than gas boilers for warming homes

Image: Building © Nimurltd/Dreamstime.com

The government’s proposed green alternative to gas heating is inferior to traditional boilers, the business and energy secretary has admitted, as he insisted that heat pumps were not “much worse” than the technology they are designed to replace.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Kwasi Kwarteng conceded that, while gas boilers had been “refined over many years … heat pumps are still in their infancy”.

But fears that the new technology provides significantly less heat in homes than traditional boilers were being “exaggerated”, Kwarteng insisted.

He added: “I don’t think actually heat pumps are that much worse than boilers. All I’m saying is that they could be improved if there was more investment.”

Kwarteng told the newspaper that providing incentives to firms to invest in the UK production of heat pumps and hydrogen will help the government meet its target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero, as well as help to “drive economic growth”, create new jobs and bring down the costs of the technology.

He was speaking as the government finalises its heat and buildings strategy. The prime minister has said that he wants 600,000 heat pumps to replace gas boilers every year by 2028. While gas heating can pump 60oC water into radiators, the government’s Climate Change Committee assumes heat pumps will operate at 50oC.

Last week the government set out its hydrogen strategy which proposed a “twin-track” approach to supporting hydrogen production, but it failed to suggest a balance between blue hydrogen.

This has raised concerns among climate groups that an over-reliance on blue hydrogen could lock the UK into decades of North Sea gas production, fossil fuel imports and millions of tonnes of carbon emissions.

Blue hydrogen is extracted from fossil gas in a process that requires carbon capture technology to trap emissions – but this method still fails to capture between 5% and 15% of the CO2. Carbon emissions are also released when the fossil gas is extracted from oil and gas fields.

Kwasi Kwarteng: ‘Heat pumps could be improved’ (Image: Chris McAndrew/Wikimedia Commons)

Opting for hydrogen that is made using fossil fuels rather than renewable electricity could create up to 8m tonnes of carbon emissions every year by 2050, according to an analysis of government data on behalf of The Guardian by Friends of the Earth Scotland.

If the government used zero carbon green hydrogen to meet a third of the UK’s forecast hydrogen demand, blue hydrogen would create the same emissions as around one million cars running on the UK’s roads each year.

Richard Dixon, the director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the government’s support for the major oil companies behind plans for blue hydrogen projects, including BP and the Norwegian state oil giant Equinor, would allow them to “prolong fossil fuel production indefinitely”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which reviewed the analysis, said investing in both green and blue hydrogen would “allow us to kick-start an entire industry from scratch that creates tens of thousands of jobs and unlocks billions of pounds worth of private investment”.

“Achieving the scale we need would be more challenging if we just used green hydrogen,” the spokesperson added.

The government’s official climate advisers at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) have backed the idea of a “blue hydrogen bridge” through the 2030s for areas of the UK economy which would struggle to run on electricity, while the UK uses its renewable electricity to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles and heating.

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Comments

  1. In my experience heat pumps are only efficient in well insulated properties with underfloor heating.

  2. It is probably inevitable that the wheels will come off hmg’s ‘strategy’ for decarbonisation, not least because it isn’t actually a strategy for that purpose at all, but strategy to enable vested interests to keep the reins of power. The only way to get a grip on climate change is through effective management of the Carbon Cycle. Hydrogen, nuclear power, heat pumps, electric vehicles etc, have zero contribution to make on that front.

    The Carbon Cycle, of which we are a part, can be managed to avoid emissions of methane, and that methane, and the carbon absorbed by the cycle, can be used to both provide portable power, and recharge the earth’s carbon stores.

    All the rest is simply fantasy land.

  3. And wind and solar worse then wood fires for energy – that’s why the paid-for scientists and spokes people on the green payrolls are banning them!

  4. The electricity lobby has Kwarteng in its pocket. Heating our inefficient heat leaky houses with heat pumps will not work, houses have to be designed specifically to use them. Buildings with a 100% hydrogen supply, using fuel cells, can make their own electricitg so they would not need an electricity supply. Blue H2 will create a bridge til green H2 is scaled up to a suitable level.

  5. Headline sponsored by BP?

  6. No where did no read that gas boilers are better than heat pumps another modes driven story

  7. *gas boilers can run at 80°C and run hotter and this less efficiently in the UK than our European neighbors do

  8. Spending a lot, like 7x the price of a traditional boiler for an inferior heating system is never going to be the way forward.
    Perhaps “Friends of the Earth are assuming that rising temperatures will negate the need for effective heating but the stats don’t bear that out.
    Scotland has been sitting on an annual mean temperature of
    7C for 20 years now and at that temperature heat pumps don’t heat as even honest manufacturers will admit.

  9. Surely the quote in the title should be “not much worse” rather than just “worse”? “Not much worse” means “almost as good as”… and since when was the temperature of water in the radiators the primary performance measure of a domestic heating system?

  10. So, 10 degrees less will probably double the number of the elderly who die each winter from hyperthermia.
    Why is all these so called environmental improvements directly cost the public money, look ugly (land based wind farms) or will not make any difference as most global warming is Nature, not man made.
    What’s it all about?
    “Follow the money, follow the money”.

  11. So…the temperature of hot water in the current legislation to combat legionnaires disease is? Yup at least 50c at home and at least 55c in a health care premises! At a max of 50c (and that really goes on a system by system basis) how does that work?

  12. This article seems quite contradictory in the opinion vs what was quoted.
    My immediate thought is that the author wanted to paint heat pumps in a bad light and twisted the words and used selective quoting.

  13. No mention of the constant whining noise that these machines will be making 24/7 leading to sleepless nights for anyone wanting windows open

  14. God help us. This government couldn’t run a bath. He needs to go to school for plumbing and learn real life.
    We need experts in charge not pr boys.

  15. Why does this article not counter the false statements made by the incompetent minister?

  16. We’ve had heat pump for years, it is MUCH warmer and our bills are less than half what we were paying.

  17. Where in this article is he quoted in saying heat pumps are worse for heating homes.
    Completely fake headline.

  18. Hydrogen seems to be the fossil fuel industry’s preferred option. Can’t think why… 🤔
    Maybe their track record on the wellbeing of the planet needs greater consideration. They got us into this mess, after all.

  19. Recently I applied for a ground source heat pump under the government’s green energy grant scheme.I meet all the criteria,so does my house and I have the funds to pay my share.I also applied for help installing loft insulation which had been removed after a flood
    I received NO quotes for this work but I did get several offers of a “free” GAS BOILER
    Strategy ,what strategy?

  20. That’s a terribly misleading title.

  21. Oh dear, still running away from the obvious and necessary energy source, nuclear.
    All other sources do not have the capacity needed to supply a modern society’s energy needs.

  22. More baloney piffle from this Govt who really have no idea. Heat pumps of the air or ground variety use almost constant air or ground heat. The essence is to insulate the building such that this is not lost or wasted and then further recycled. Gas boilers is a high carbon fossil fuel user comparisons are stupid in this article. More lies propaganda for the govt to sway electorate. This govt are incompetent on all levels.

  23. As for blue hydrogen more crap. This is born via process of fossil fuels. More fudge cow towing to the oil and gas business.

  24. I think a better title would be “energy secretary causes further confusion over way forward for heating.”

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