UK has worst heat pump sales record in Europe

The UK sells and installs fewer heat pumps per household than Poland, Slovakia and Estonia, as well as most other European countries, according to an assessment of the most up-to-date data by Greenpeace UK [1].

The data, which was provided to Greenpeace UK by the European Heat Pump Association, shows how the UK is seriously lagging behind its European neighbours when it comes to switching to clean sources of home heating and decarbonising its housing sector.

Of the twenty-one countries for which data was available, the UK came joint last on heat pump sales last year, with just 1.3 heat pumps sold per 1000 households [2]. The UK was second to last when it came to total installations, with just 10 installations per 1000 households [3].

The UK’s heat pump sales figures per household were three times lower than in Poland, ten times lower than in France, and thirty-two times lower than sales in Norway.

The disparity is even greater for installations. The UK installed more than five times fewer heat pumps than Lithuania, more than thirty times fewer than Estonia and sixty times fewer heat pumps than Norway – who topped the charts both in sales and installations.

Currently housing is responsible directly for around 14% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions [4], mostly down to gas boiler heating systems in poorly insulated homes. As countries around the world ramp up their efforts to decarbonise housing to help tackle the climate crisis, heat pumps are widely anticipated to become the alternative to gas boilers for heating homes.

This slow rollout of clean sources of home heating in the UK is not only a missed opportunity to create new long term, green jobs, and boost economic growth, but it also risks jeopardising plans to decarbonise housing and derail the UK’s climate commitments. Without action it will undermine the UK’s leadership as host of the upcoming global climate conference, COP26, which is being held in Glasgow in November.

Greenpeace UK’s policy director, Doug Parr, said:

“The UK already has the draughtiest homes in western Europe, now we’re last when it comes to clean heating too. We perform better in Eurovision than we do decarbonising our homes, and that’s saying something.

“If the government wants a chance to catch up, it needs a proper strategy and enough cash to clean up our homes on a massive scale. This means substantial grants for heat pump installations, especially for the poorest families, removing VAT on green home technologies and a phase out of gas boilers early next decade.

“Without these measures, which many of our European neighbours already have in place, we’ll fall further behind on the ‘green homes’ leaderboard. But more importantly we’ll fail to remove emissions from homes fast enough to meet our legally-binding climate obligations.”

The government’s long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy, as well as its Comprehensive Spending Review, are both due this Autumn. They will set out the government’s plans for decarbonising homes and buildings and the finances made available to do it.

There are concerns that the strategy and funding will fall short of what is required to tackle emissions from housing, both in terms of improving energy efficiency of homes and switching to clean heating systems, such as heat pumps.

Greenpeace UK is calling on the government to learn from the policies introduced across Europe that have delivered much faster deployment of heat pumps. This starts with a comprehensive package of grants, loans and tax incentives, such as removal of VAT on heat pumps and energy efficiency products, as well as 0% or low-cost loans for installation.

It is vital to pay particular care to ensure low income families are not disadvantaged by the high capital costs. In the UK it would also require a commitment to phasing out new gas boiler installations early in 2030s within its Heat and Buildings Strategy.

The government grants to cover installation costs for heat pumps should be offered at a level which aims to make the upfront costs of installing a heat pump and complementary energy efficiency measures the same as replacing a gas boiler, with subsidies reducing over time as costs fall. The entire cost should be covered by the grants for low-income households.

This will require new public investment of £4.76 billion from the Chancellor at the Spending Review, in order to leverage private investment, accelerate heat pump installation, down the cost curve, and be fair to low income households. A further £7 billion of public investment is required at the Spending Review for energy efficiency measures, such as insulation and double glazing, in order to sufficiently cut emissions from housing.