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Heat Pumps

Volume 836: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether it remains their policy for 600,000 heat pumps to be installed per year by 2028; and, if so, what actions they are taking to achieve this goal.

My Lords, the Government remain fully committed to supporting the transition to low-carbon heating; this includes the aim to grow the market to 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, and a range of measures are supporting this market growth. From 2025, we also expect that heat pumps will become the primary heating technology for new homes, under the future homes standard.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer to my Question. There have been numerous rumours in the press that the Government might be about to scrap the so-called boiler tax. Is this indeed the case and, if so, how will the Government continue to work with industry to make sure that this important target is met?

Of course there is no such things as a boiler tax and therefore it is impossible to scrap it; but if the noble Earl is asking about the clean heat market mechanism—which is not a boiler tax—we will be implementing it because it is an essential part of meeting that 600,000 target and, of course, our carbon budgets.

My Lords, installers say that heat pumps can be installed in flats—not all of them, but quite a lot of them—and a lot of people live in flats. The problem seems to be with the manufacturers, who are reluctant. What will the Government do to enable heat pumps to be installed in flats where there is space?

Of course the grants are also available to anybody living in a flat. Sometimes there are space constraints, because you need an outside condenser unit and, potentially, a new hot water cylinder. The primary means of decarbonising flats will almost certainly be heat networks, which could of course be powered by heat pumps.

My Lords, has my noble friend the Minister seen the excellent investigative journalism article published by DeSmog last year, which revealed that a lobby group, the Energy and Utilities Alliance, has been paying a PR agency to “spark outrage” and plant hundreds of anti-heat pump propaganda articles in both national and local media?

I thank my noble friend for that question; I did see that article and I completely agree with her that it was very good investigative journalism. I am supportive of a sensible debate on competing technologies, but planting misleading and false stories about heat pumps to negatively affect public support for the technologies is, frankly, a disgrace, and the big boiler manufacturers that fund the EUA should be ashamed of themselves.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that if heat pumps became universally used as a primary source of heat in rural Britain, the electricity supply to many villages and market towns would crash. That is before they start using electric cars en masse. What are the Government going to do to ensure that the national grid will be able to provide an adequate supply of power across all of Britain?

The noble Lord is right; we will require a massive upgrading of the national grid. That is proceeding and we have plans in place for it. Ofgem has authorised tens of billions of pounds-worth of expenditure to upgrade the grid. This is a transition; we gradually need to move away from gas supplies and gas boilers, and on to electrification of heat and electric vehicles. It will happen over time, but it is happening.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have had two air source heat pumps for the last 10 years, and I somewhat regret it. With the median heat gain for air source heat pumps at 2.8, and the electricity-to-gas ratio of 4, they do not make sense. I ask my noble friend the Minister, and indeed all Members of the Chamber, if they would be so good as to speak to their local plumber—if they can get hold of him or her—and ask them the question that I asked, as to whether it is in any way possible to imagine 600,000 installations per year, given the level of training that would need to be given to plumbers to do that.

There are a number of parts to my noble friend’s question. First, on expanding the supply chain, he is of course right, but there are thousands of new installers being trained every year. I spoke to MCS, which is the trade organisation, and it is registering new companies every week to do this installation. We are funding training courses under the heat training grants. However, the main part of his question is about the price differential between electricity and gas. He is right—we need to rebalance those costs, and the Government will issue a consultation on that later this year.

My Lords, the number of heat pumps per 100,000 people in the UK is about eight times lower than the average across the EU. What steps are the Government taking to investigate how other countries have found success in raising their adoption rates, and will they apply any lessons learned to increase our own adoption rate, which is far lower than it needs to be?

The noble Baroness is right; it is lower than it needs to be, which is why we have plans to expand the installation rates up to the levels that I mentioned. We have a number of schemes to support that: the clean heat market mechanism, which I mentioned; the boiler upgrade scheme; and we increased the grants to £7,500. We support it under the social housing decarbonisation fund, and under the eco scheme as well. We have ambitious plans to expand the installation rate.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. If we are to improve the uptake of heat pumps, does the Minister agree that we need to improve the uptake of energy efficiency measures, so that the pumps are more effective in the homes they are installed in? At ping-pong on the then Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, promised that the Government would issue a consultation on heat efficiency standards in the social housing sector within six months of Royal Assent. That six months has now run out, but the consultation has not even started. I wonder if he knows when it is going to start?

There are a number of aspects to the noble Baroness’s question. With regard to the consultation, I do not want to speak for the noble Baroness, Lady Scott—I do not know if she is in the Chamber—but I believe it will be issued imminently. With regard to the first part of the question, I say that we need to expand energy efficiency, irrespective of whether your home is powered by a heat pump or by a gas boiler. Using less gas and less electricity are both a good thing.

My Lords, the Minister kindly referred to the social housing decarbonisation fund, but there are something like 2.7 million homes owned by the social housing sector, with a projected cost of £36 billion to decarbonise them. Does he recognise that the fund is far too small to deliver that, and if so, what extra support will be made available to housing associations for them to achieve this for their poorer tenants?

I am sorry, but I do not agree with the right reverend Prelate. The social housing decarbonisation fund has been a massive success. Just last week, we announced its next phase: £1.1 billion-worth of government funding, matched by another £1 billion-worth of funding from housing associations and local authorities. I have had a number of meetings with them all, and they all agree that the fund is an excellent process and going well. The social housing sector is actually the best performing of all the different tenures.

My Lords, what studies have the Government carried out on terraced housing in our country? Many people live in terraced housing with little or no front gardens and little, if any, gardens behind. Where will the heat pumps go in those circumstances? What, if any, research have the Government done on that?

A huge amount of research has gone into it. We reckon that about 90% of homes in the UK are suitable for heat pumps. Obviously, there is a wide variety of different homes; the area that the noble Lord and I come from has a lot of terraced properties. You can use ground source heat pumps with common arrays in the road, and you can use heat networks that have one remote location powering the heat pumps. There are a number of different technologies where this is perfectly possible.

My Lords, we languish not only very close to the bottom of the European league table of heat pump installation but at the bottom of another European league table: the ratio of the price of electricity to gas, with electricity being far higher. The Minister has discussed the matter before. When will we rebalance that imbalance in the UK?

If the noble Lord had been paying attention earlier, he would have noticed that I answered that question in response to my noble friend Lord Leigh. This is a difficult political issue—I will not shy away from that fact—but the Government are aware that we need to make progress on it, and we will issue a consultation this year.