The Government has a commitment to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.
The UK has 28 million households, and with the 28 years we have left until 2050, we’d need to decarbonise on average 20,000 homes per week.
This needs a street-by-street approach.
This is how we can do it...
To define the best strategy for rapidly, effectively, and affordably decarbonising each part of the UK, we should create a detailed regional map to determine the best form of decarbonised heat for each area.
This zoning approach should consider factors such as; heat density, property type, local population, and geology, to choose between high temperature, ambient temperature, or stand-alone solutions.
A carefully considered ‘phased approach involving disconnecting gas in key areas would be the most effective and efficient way forward.Delivering at scale across neighbourhoods offers significant cost reductions – Kensa estimates the benefit of installing street-by-street brings up to a 28% saving through volume economies of scale.
In the 60’s and 70’s we moved off towns' gas (coal/oil) onto natural gas. Now in the 2020’s we can transition to a cheaper, safer, and greener heat source, a 21st-century gas grid equivalent.
Instead of the separately owned and maintained gas pipework delivering gas to individual gas boilers, we can have separately owned and maintained ambient loop pipework feeding sustainable energy to individual ground source heat pumps in people’s homes.
Shared ground loop arrays are unobtrusive, scalable, and perfectly suited to large domestic developments, encompassing streets of houses to tower blocks.
A natural and safe heat exchange between homes and properties, and the ground – no carbon emissions, no air pollution, and no energy supply volatility.
Pre-installation of the sustainable ambient loop infrastructure means multiple properties across whole communities, including tower blocks, can switch to individual networked heat pumps simultaneously.
This also enables individual households to easily and affordably make the transition from their gas boiler to a heat pump when they’re ready to change, with minimal disruption. The end user is able to shop around for the best ground source heat pump and energy tariff, much like they would when replacing their gas boiler and energy supplier contract.
Plumbing and heating engineers can install ground source heat pumps on a neighbourhood scale, without involvement with the ambient loop infrastructure, just as they have no involvement in the supply of the gas network.
We are all used to accessing services we use in our homes and individual appliances, as a customer of utility companies. We do this currently with gas, water, electricity, data - and even through local authorities with roads and waste disposal.
A networked heat pump system is no different from the gas grid model. Consumers simply own a ‘white box’ ground source heat pump in their property and pay a standing charge in their energy bill to connect to the ambient temperature heat network.
For utility companies, it is an investment that will last for decades, as shared borehole ground arrays have a lifetime of up to 100 years.
Networked Ground Source Heat Pumps exchange heat with an ‘Ambient Loop’ – a submerged closed loop of pipework circulating low-grade heat energy to the ground source heat pumps connected to it. The heat pumps can either heat a building – cooling the loop a little – or cool a building – warming the loop a little. When the heat pump cools the Ambient Loop, renewable sources maintain its temperature.
The readily available ambient heat energy used by a ground source heat pump is predominantly stored solar energy, which is naturally replenished. The temperature below the surface of the ground is unaffected by changes in air temperature, remaining constant 24/7 365 days a year.
This means networked heat pumps provide sustainable heating, cooling, and hot water all year round without any loss of efficiency, keeping homes comfortable no matter what the season.
The decarbonisation of heat via electricity should be supported by increasing the pace of electricity grid decarbonisation. Smart controls and load shifting of networked heat pumps and EV chargers can play a major part in matching variable generation to variable demand.
The widespread electrification of heat through networked ground source heat pumps reduces the investment in electricity generation required for other technology alternatives, such as air source heat pumps and hydrogen.
Building more UK renewable electricity generation like offshore wind and solar will help the UK become ever more self-sufficient with ever lower costs and end our reliance on gas – whilst simultaneously decarbonising the grid.
Individual ground source heat pumps are installed in each dwelling and the ambient temperature heat network connects all dwellings.
With networked heat pumps, householders have independent control over the heating appliance in their own homes, and the flexibility to switch suppliers and contracts as they wish. This also means no split-billing or metering requirements for landlords to worry about in tenanted properties either.
Shared ground loop arrays are unobtrusive and scalable and multiple properties benefit from the same borehole infrastructure.
There is an abundance of waste heat in society – for example, process cooling in supermarkets or data centres; or cooling of homes through air-conditioning. City centre environments particularly provide copious amounts of waste heat, from underground transport tunnels or electrical transmission. This thermal energy is often wasted out into the surrounding environment.
Networked Heat Pumps can utilise this waste heat, recycling it into the system and using it as an energy booster to enhance efficiency, thus reducing the cost, of the heating and cooling it provides.
Load-shifting with networked heat pumps is key to reducing running costs and grid strain. Many suppliers are launching heat pump-centric tariffs which focus operation when electricity is lower cost (and lower carbon), so the running costs are also competitive with gas.
These should be developed and become the standard to encourage the use of heat pumps (and other electrical devices) when the grid can best accommodate it. This will hugely reduce the investment required in the generation and distribution of electricity which in turn will drive down the overall price of electricity.
A networked ground source heat pump is powered through electricity, delivering 3 to 5kW of renewable energy for every 1kW of electrical power it consumes. This efficiency makes networked heat pumps the most energy-efficient heating technology available, resulting in reduced running costs, cheaper energy bills, and a lower carbon footprint.
While modern condensing boilers can be over 90% efficient, a networked heat pump can achieve efficiencies of 550%. Replacing the UK’s 23m boilers with heat pumps could avoid £25bn p.a in wholesale gas costs - £1,100 per household, or 1.2% of GDP.