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UK heat pump uptake too slow

UK: The UK must achieve an eleven-fold increase in heat pump installations if it is to hit government targets of 600,000 heat pumps installed per year by 2028.

The National Audit Office (NAO), the UK’s independent public spending watchdog, says the government’s assumptions about levels of consumer demand and manufacturer supply are optimistic. 

The NAO’s latest report accuses the government’s flagship Boiler Upgrade Scheme of underperforming, installing just 18,900 heat pumps between May 2022 and December 2023. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) had expected the scheme would deliver 50,000 installations by now.

According to the NAO, a key issue behind lower-than-expected heat pump uptake is their cost to use and install. 

It says that DESNZ delayed its planned work to reduce running costs, by rebalancing gas and electricity prices, for example by moving some levies and charges from electricity to gas bills. The department says that price rebalancing remains an essential policy but is challenging. Heat pump installation costs also fell more slowly than DESNZ hoped, the NAO report claims.

The NAO also found that DESNZ has no overarching long-term plan to address the low levels of awareness among households about the steps required to decarbonise home heating.

To improve its transparency and accountability on the rollout of heat pumps, the NAO says government should report its progress annually to Parliament.

The public spending watchdog is recommending government develops an overarching long-term consumer engagement plan for decarbonising home heating. And it also recommends that DESNZ accelerates its work to rebalance the cost of energy to improve heat pump uptake.

Commenting on the report and the need to decarbonise older and less efficient homes, Philip Dunne MP, chair of the government’s Environmental Audit Committee, said: “Rapid adoption of innovative technologies like heat pumps can play a bigger role in moving these harder to insulate homes away from fossil fuel heat. But successfully installing heat pumps often requires significant additional work. The now disbanded Energy Efficiency Taskforce was expected to propose innovative ways to make installations and retrofits more affordable; improving affordability must remain top of the agenda.”

Russell Dean, Mitsubishi Electric’s residential product group director, insisted: “Rebalancing the cost of electricity and gas and removing levies from electricity bills will result in immediate savings for households looking to make the switch as the rising cost of living places an increasing strain on families across the UK. 

“With over 70% of consumers knowing little to nothing about how heat pump technology works, educating consumers on the importance of heat pump technology will also be crucial to encouraging wider uptake,” he added.

This observation was echoed by Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at consumer group Which?, who said: ”Our research found that the cost of some green technologies such as heat pumps – as well as a lack of awareness and reliable information – is currently holding consumers back from leading more sustainable lives – with around four in 10 (44%) of homeowners not even knowing what a heat pump is.”

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