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The new not-so-hot thing

“Heat pumps: How do they work and how do I get one?” asks the BBC. Fun fact: heat pumps are born from magic cabbages that have been pollinated by combi boilers. Obviously you cannot buy a heat pump, but if you promise promise promise to look after it, the government will let you adopt one. Be warned, you may have to outbid all the other prospective heat-pump mummies and daddies out there!

Or maybe not. After the enthusiastic headline, the first paragraph of the BBC article admits that despite the government offering households £5,000 to replace their gas boilers with heat pumps, take-up of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme has been so low that the Lords Net Zero Committee has warned that the national target for green heating is “very unlikely to be met”.

This is scarcely surprising when, as the Telegraph reports,

Heat pumps will still cost households thousands of pounds each even after they have used the Government’s troubled voucher scheme, a minister has admitted.

Lord Callanan, a junior energy minister, said some consumers would pay “as little” as £2,500 for the eco-friendly heating systems after a grant of £5,000 was taken into account.

His admission comes after critics blamed the high cost of heat pumps for the “embarrassingly” low uptake of the £150m-a-year boiler upgrade scheme.

Official figures show that fewer than 10,000 households have taken advantage of the grants since its launch last May.

From what I hear, heat pumps can be a good heating solution for newly built houses, but putting one in an older house costs a lot more than £5k. Where houses are crowded close together, the bulky outdoor unit is just one more ugly council-mandated eco thing to sit next to the ever-increasing number of wheelie bins that block the pavements.

If anything will prompt a revolt against Net Zero in the UK, the proposed ban on gas boilers will be that thing.

23 comments to The new not-so-hot thing

  • Quite where in my 1895 constructed tenement I am meant to stick a heat pump, god alone knows.

    …especially since it’s a tiny flat on the 2nd floor.

    Perhaps levitating on scaffolding outside the kitchen window?

  • cirby

    There’s a thing called a “mini split.”

    It’s basically a small heat pump. Easy (easier, anyway) to install, and more than enough for a small flat.

  • Will it heat my flat cheaply to 20C?

    …thought not.

  • FrankS

    The prefix eco-, or the qualifier green, should always be taken as warning the punter that something is likely to be both expensive and inefficient. In some cases, also dangerous or destructive.

  • FrankS

    And it almost goes without saying that anything promoted in the name of Net Zero is likely to be loopy, mnisguided, and a shocking waste of resources and opportunities.

  • Blackwing1

    Yeah, let’s change from cheap, plentiful, clean natural gas boilers to heat pumps, which require huge amounts of the ever-shrinking electrical power supply. If the UK ever goes full eco-whacko, you can expect chronic blackouts and brownouts, and some form of electricity rationing. That’ll make it a great way to stay warm come winter.

    I live in a portion of the United States (northwestern Wyoming) which is subject to weather that’s probably slightly (sarcasm) cooler than almost all of Western Europe. The cold snaps we had this year, which lasted for about 10 days each, gave us ambient temperatures in the -35°F range (for you metric folk that’s about -37°C). I do not know of a single heat pump on the market that does anything effective with an outdoor temperature that low. They essentially revert to straight electrical heating, one of the most expensive ways on Earth to keep your house from freezing.

    One of the reasons we bought our house was that it had hot-water radiators, and even knowing that the boiler needed replacement (we just did so after 4 years in house) we would never, ever go with an air-source heat pump. Given that we don’t have enough property for a ground-source heat pump, as well as the enormous cost of their installation, there really wasn’t even a choice.

    Until our governments eliminate them the way they’re eliminating gas stoves. That’s one of the reasons we replaced it NOW, rather than waiting…”regime uncertainty”.

    Just remember that it’s all about power and control, and has nothing to do with the fig-leaf of “environment”. They want us plebes hungry, dirty, and shivering in the dark.

  • NickM

    I have a modest proposal for our “eco-chums” (who are utterly evil)…

    They can generate ecotricity by using all those defunct Pelatons 18 hours a day. Obviously some will not be physically up to it but that’s where the Soylent Green to feed the rest of them comes from isn’t it?

    Unlike Jonathan Swift’s, my “Modest Proposal” is not satire.

  • This shit will keep happening until there are personal & very negative consequences for the people pushing it.

  • This shit will keep happening until there are personal & very negative consequences for the people pushing it.

    While I would prefer guilotines, I can live with MP’s getting called out on this at every public meeting, hustings and eventually losing their seats because of any sign of support for NetZero.

    As soon as marginal constituencies see that the only way to keep their seats (in current AND future elections) is to repudiate NetZero on a personal level of candidate / constituency and push for the party to do so in the manifesto, is the only way to change things.

    Make sure that MP’s know that support for action AGAINST NetZero is greater than the margin with their opponent and most will fall into line.

  • Dave Ward

    And some form of electricity rationing

    @ Blackwing1 – That’s why the government have been pushing the installation of “Smart” meters…

  • bobby b

    Heat pumps are a great way to heat your home if you live in a tropical climate. Their only other use is to justify the removal of your natural gas or fuel oil supply.

  • llamas

    Oh, how we wish the laws of thermodynamics could be altered, in our favour.

    Air-source heat pumps, which included the “mini-splits” popular in warmer climates, will provide less and less heat, the colder it gets outside, and less and less cooling, the warmer it gets outside. And in both cases, will use more and more electricity to produce less and less heating or cooling, as the outside temperature rises or falls, respectively – if you see what I mean. In other words, the more you need them, the less effective and efficient they are – the perfect government solution. You couldn’t make it up.

    What, did somebody tell you that there is such a thing as a free lunch?

    Ground-source heat pumps can work quite well, from a thermodynamic viewpoint, but will always involve access to, you know, ground, plus the extensive use of large yellow machines driven by men whose names likely end in vowels. The best ground-source heat pumps use vertical heat-exchanger arrays that go as deep as 400 feet down. Just imagine the cost of a leak repair.

    Anyone who thinks that the widespread use of heat pumps constitutes a sensible, effective, or efficient approach to climate control is an ignorant jackass, a thermodynamic ignoramus and an all-around fool who deserves to be sent packing to the sound of riotous laughter.



  • NickM

    llamas is right about thermodynamics. A heat pump is basically trying to cook a steak on the back of a fridge.

    I think some folk round here are perhaps missing another point though. This is in many ways a political blog so I understand that things are seen in political terms. But this greenery has gone way beyond the political sphere. It has gone beyond science – anyone who says, “The science is settled” is displaying an utter pignorance of what science is actually about. It has become a sort of pseudo-theology and has deeply penetrated culture and all discourse in a very Frankfurt form of redefining reality. That needs to change. Green is the most pernicious (and succesful) attempt to destroy real reality and replace it with a “reality” cast in a false image of the Universe I recall ever having seen. It redefines “truth”. Trans ideology does much the same when it does things like allow a person who is biologically male and fancies women to identify as a “trans-lesbian”. Such extreme trans ideas are still met with ridicule from many but Green has a much firmer base and that is why it is so dangerous.

    It has an antidote – “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges.

    Read it. Spread it. It is at least as important a text as something like “1984”. This is not a poltical struggle. It is a cultural one because it is against an ideology that is not about a political view but something that has becoming metastatic. Green is not just an assault on society but on the very concept of reality.

    PS. I read recently about some more “evidence” had been found to back the “Climate Catastrophe”. Completely straight-faced the “evidence” was stated as being a new computer model… Should I tell Neo?

  • I live in Minnesota, and have a heat pump. It’s called an air conditioner. For Winter, I also have a gas-fired furnace. We use the air conditioner during the hot season, and the furnace during the cold, and the electricity bills in winter are much larger than the gas bills. Summer, bring the temperature down from (say) 90F to 70F. Winter, bring the temperature up from 10F to 70f. So 20F drop in temp costs much more from electricity than 60F rise in temp from gas.

  • Kirk

    Heat pumps are only any good down to about the freezing point of water. Then, you have to turn them off and rely on the electric heat usually built into most American forced-air heat systems.

    I don’t know what they do in the UK for that, but… I can’t imagine why anyone would think that electric boilers were going to be at all efficient for household heat purposes.

    I’m not a huge fan of the technology, TBH. You have to have enough ambient heat in the surrounding environment to make it at all effective, and without it, you’re basically pumping cold around.

    I was talking to our HVAC service guy a few weeks ago. They were servicing an in-ground heat pump, basically a geothermal installation, which uses water circulated through pipes placed in well casings to serve as a source of heat. Interestingly, what they accomplished this last year at this one site was to create a fairly significant chunk of permafrost beneath the very expensive house it was built into. This has had the effect of drastically damaging the stability of the soil, which given the location, means they’re in danger of having the entire thing slide off the hill it is located on. The geotechnical engineer is going to be charging them about as much as they spent on the house itself for amelioration…

    You’re not supposed to freeze subsoil beneath your house. Just not a good idea, ya know?

    None of this stuff is free. You press in on the balloon at your peril, because it’ll inevitably come pushing out somewhere else where you least expect it or want it.

  • Ferox

    All you naysayers.

    Haven’t you learned yet that if you want a thing badly enough, and if your heart is pure enough (free of the taint of white-male-ism), then the thing will manifest itself, patriarchal science and logic be damned.

    Jesus says so, and if he didn’t then Lysenko or Chairman Mao must have done.

    P.S. Any idea when the comment preview feature is returning?

  • JohnK

    The trouble is, whether you vote Conservative, Labour or Liberal you get Big Green.

    There will be first mover advantage if any party realises that Net Zero is brain dead. Until then (if it ever happens) no party which stands a chance of being elected is against Big Green. Whoever you vote for, you lose.

  • Paul Marks

    The situation is very difficult and it is likely to get worse.

    One problem is that if a politician, even at the local level, spoke out against such policies – the response would not be a civil debate, the response would be that the person who spoke out would be punished (in one way or another).

    Elected people do not determine policy in such areas – on the contrary, they are “trained” in what their opinions and-so-on should be, by officials and “experts”. This is considered quite normal now – and not just on the C02 is evil theory, but on a wide variety of matters. NOT everything, I must not exaggerate, but on quite a lot of things.

    It is still, just about, allowed to not attend the indoctrination events and to remain silent in “debates” (which are not debates at all – as everyone has to express the same basic opinions), but how long that will remain true I do not know.

    It is rather depressing and makes talk of the “Free World” ring a bit hollow.

  • JJM

    Our house has an in-ground geothermal system which works very well. We did not choose the system; it was already installed when we purchased the place. A few years ago we had to replace the geothermal “furnace” itself – not cheap but we had the advantage of installing a new unit on an established geothermal well system, so considerably less expensive than starting from scratch. The new heat pump is very efficient indeed, and vastly superior to the 30 year-old one it replaced.

    By the way, we live in the country outside Ottawa in Canada. So yes, we do get deep cold here and the system copes with it; it also delivers air-conditioning in the summer.

    But here’s the rub: we are on about two acres of well-irrigated land (0.8 hectares) with our nearest neighbours some distance away. We are well aware that geological and hydrological factors, combined with plenty of space, work in our favour here, as opposed to the situation for a home in the higher-density Ottawa suburbs.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Here in the Baltics, I used to live in a flat* with a heat pump and wood stoves.

    (* Actually, the ground floor of a house with one additional floor.)

    I was told that the heat pump is very inefficient when it is very cold, and am pleased to read here that what i was told is correct.

    In summer, i often had to keep the heat pump on, round-the-clock, because it was getting very humid.

    In winter, i relied almost entirely on the wood stoves to keep warm. That was a challenge: carrying a load of wood at least once/day across the lawn, often on slippery ice, and making sure that there was enough wood in the flat for 2 or 3 days, in case i get down with the flu. (Also, getting a new supply of wood in good time when i was running short.)
    But i enjoy challenges.

  • Douglas2

    It’s not at all clear to me if the discussion in comments here is about:
    • the US 1970’s-style (air-source, forced-air duct-distribution) heat pump system, blowing tepidly warm air from wall, floor, or ceiling vents, and reliant upon electric resistance heating whenever the outdoor temperature is much below freezing,
    • the Asian-style “mini-split” air-source system with wall, console, or ceiling mount “indoor unit” blowing the heated/cooled air, many of which have useful heat production even in outdoor temperatures as low as -30°C,
    • The split-system units being promoted as condensing-boiler replacements in the UK, which are mostly air-source but then use hot-water to distribute the heat to the room radiators. Installation can be fiendishly disruptive (and expensive) in some cases, as existing piping to all the radiators may need to be up-sized.

    Ground source has also been mentioned, and can also be applicable to systems with “indoor units” in each room, duct-distribution of heated-air, and heated water to radiators.

    On various forums I’ve observed that some places far from me in US/Canada have utility companies that are promoting and subsidizing “dual fuel” or “add on” heat pump installations, where the “smart thermostat” measures outdoor temperature and switches over to using the fossil-fuel heating when the outdoor temperature drops the heat-pump coefficient of performance to the point where burning fuel is more cost-effective, and this seems the logical thing to me for climates with occasional extreme cold.

    Conflict of interest disclosure: In the past year I put in a mini-split air-source system, completely separate from our forced-air oil heating system. While it is claimed to be 75% efficient even at -30°C outdoor temperature, my interest was 90% in using it in the summer as air-conditioning, and 10% as having a backup home heating source that can be easily switched-on in the event that our elderly oil-furnace develops problems.

    It will be electrically quite simple to have control for both systems such that the oil-system is only used where it is more economical do do so — which I’m guessing would be about 10 weeks of the year. But I need to build some scenario-checking spreadsheet models on this, as it might end up costing more money overall if our annual oil-delivery falls below the vendor’s minimum quantity surcharge threshold.

  • Fred Z

    I expect the Germans to recoil from the climatology death pit at the last second while pushing the UK over the edge.

    It’s all a dastardly Teutonic trick and third time lucky.

  • Paul Marks

    Douglas2 – the discussion is about how the “Net Zero” agenda is going to help destroy the economy and society of the United Kingdom and other Western nations. It is true that the “Green” agenda is not the only factor at work (it may, perhaps, not even be the most important factor in the destruction of what is left of the West), but it is not, to put the matter mildly, helpful. Not helpful if one wants to prevent collapse – economic and societal collapse.

    And to add more gloom – I went to a lunch event on Friday when we were addressed by a government minister (a supposedly “right wing” one) – the standard Net Zero “Green Economy” stuff was presented – even in private, with no indication that the minister knew it did not make sense.

    “And what did you say Paul?” – I said nothing to the minister at all, there is nothing I could say that would have any effect (even assuming that ministers make these decisions – which is doubtful). The decision is already made.

    The decision is already made – it was made years ago. Some of this stuff has been in various international agendas for more than 30 years.

    More than 30 years.