Green Technology

Heat Pumps, Solar, & Batteries Exploding in the UK

Heat pumps and solar panels rule in the UK this June. In fact, it has been a bumper year for all green energy upgrades — batteries included — a 62% increase over 2022. As I sit here in the winter sunshine in Brisbane, Queensland, I remember my 18 months working in Gloucester, UK, in the 1970s. I don’t remember much sunshine and I was pleased to return home to the never-ending blue sky of Australia at the end of my work contract. So, I am amazed at the figures coming out of the UK for 2023.

According to The Guardian: “On average, more than 17,000 households installed solar panels every month this year, while the number of homes installing heat pumps reached 3,000 a month for the first time, according to the data. Each month of 2023 was also a record month for battery technologies, as installation figures consistently surpassed the month before, bringing the total number of batteries installed in homes and businesses across the UK to more than 1,000 in 2023 so far.”

The last record for installations was set in 2012, just before government subsidies were about to be reduced. The industry’s accreditation body, MCS, said that 2023 should exceed that record, with some analysts predicting that nearly a quarter of a million UK households could install renewable energy by the end of this year. The increasing visibility of climate change and skyrocketing energy prices are great incentives.

Electricity-generating technologies, particularly solar PV, have made up over 80% of the installations so far in 2023. The UK government has set targets to reach 70 GW of solar capacity by 2035. This is in an incredibly green country that seemed to me to be always covered in clouds.

“As the cost of energy continues to grow, we are seeing more people turn to renewable technology to generate their own energy and heat at home,” Ian Rippin, the chief executive of MCS, said. “We need to continue to push this expansion to meet our shared national ambitions to reach net zero by 2050. More consumers have the confidence to invest in small-scale renewables now than ever, but we have to make that transition even easier. … The home-grown energy you invest in for your home, or your business plays an ever more crucial role in the decarbonisation of UK buildings.” Removal of some of the complexity involved in retrofitting existing homes would help smooth the transition.

MCS declares its mission on its website: “Working with industry, MCS defines, maintains and improves quality by certifying low-carbon energy technologies and contractors — including heat pumps, solar, biomass, wind and battery storage. MCS aims to decarbonise heat and power in the UK’s homes by giving you confidence in home-grown energy.”

MCS data indicates that almost 18,000 hot water heat pumps were installed in the first six months of June. However, “Bean Beanland, the director of external affairs at the Heat Pump Federation, said there was ‘a tremendous job of work to do’ to ensure that heat pump technology becomes mainstream over the remainder of this decade.” He is looking forward to the “complete cessation of combustion” for heating. Even if heat pump installations continue at this pace for the rest of 2023, it would still only achieve 6% of the UK government’s target of 600,000 per year by 2028. This, despite a £5000 grant to offset the cost of replacing the gas boiler and the promise of cheaper running costs. In the ’70s, our house in Gloucester was heated by a good old coal furnace, just like my grandmother’s.

For a little background on heat pump water heaters, in case you’re new to this technology, “Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. Therefore, they can be two to three times more energy efficient than conventional electric resistance water heaters. To move the heat, heat pumps work like a refrigerator in reverse.”

One of the biggest barriers to achieving government targets for replacement of older technologies by heat pump hot water heaters is the lack of qualified, skilled installers. “There are 1,500 heat pump installation companies certified in the UK, but an estimated 50,000 workers will be needed to meet government targets. So far this year, more than 850 new contractors have become MCS certified, more than the number who signed up during the whole of 2022.” MCS would like to see further investment in skills and training, as well as government mandates for the installation of solar panels, heat pumps, and battery storage in all new homes from 2025 onward under the new Future Homes Standard.

“Heating and powering buildings accounts for 30% of the UK’s total energy usage, so our homes will play a vital role in the UK’s efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions. In 2025, compliance with the Future Homes Standard (FHS) will become mandatory. Its aim is to ensure that new homes built from 2025 will produce 75–80% less carbon emissions than homes built under the current Building Regulations.”

“It is essential that the lowest-carbon heat becomes the lowest-cost heat, so that homeowners and landlords can justify the transition away from polluting fossil fuels. If this is coupled to a genuine affordability and future funding package, then households will be able to contribute to climate change mitigation with confidence and at a cost that is fair to all,” Bean Beanland continued. At the recent launch of the MCS data dashboard, Beanland makes a plea for better data gathering and electricity tariffs that encourage the transition. He quotes the example of the Isle of Jersey (not the warmest pace on Earth) where the whole community is moving to heat pump water heaters because of the high price of gas.

Gareth Simkins, Senior Communications Adviser at Solar Energy UK, has said: “Installing solar on your roof is one of the best home improvements you can make, and more and more people realise the financial and environmental benefits.”

During the last 12 months, energy demand for the UK averaged 29.4 GW per day. This means that electricity-generating technologies on private homes and businesses could, in peak conditions, power over 13% of the country. This 4 GW of power generation is greater than the nuclear power plant under construction at Hinkley Point and almost double the capacity of Europe’s biggest gas power plant near Pembroke in Wales.

Like Australia, the UK is realising the value of distributed energy resources that generate renewable energy. Solar is king. The UK’s lush green landscape will be partnered with green energy.


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