Clean Energy

Air Source Heat Pump

At the last Cop26 in Egypt, Rishi Sunak detailed how he wanted the UK to become a “a clean energy superpower” and with the UK already cutting carbon emissions quicker than any other G7 countries, this promise has the potential to be extremely impactful to the industry.

So how will the UK achieve this?

Known for his economic background, Rishi Sunak has identified his view that the renewable energy industry will provide the UK with high skilled, high paying jobs and in the more recent years has focused on the development and installation of innovative energy sources.  

One innovative energy source identified is the air heat pump, which is more efficient than regular boilers. In the government’s ‘10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’, the Government outlined that all new builds will be built to a ‘future home standard’, requiring all new builds to be zero carbon ready by 2025. To achieve this the future home standard requires homes to be built without fossil fuel heating, such as a gas boiler and instead utilise low carbon heating units, like the air source heat pump. In the 10 Point Plan, they also states how they aim for 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028 and with incentive schemes for both technicians and homeowners, it is clear there is a real push to incorporate air pumps into daily life.

So, what are Air Source Heat Pumps?

Air Source Heat Pump
Schematic for Air Source Heat Pump

Air heat pumps are positioned outside of a home and are powered electricity to generate energy through ambient air. Often being described as working opposite to a fridge, the process begins by a ventilation system which collects the air through a fan and combines it with a liquid refrigerant. This allows the pump to work in conditions as cold as -20C as the liquid is always colder than the ambient air. The liquid is then evaporated to make steam and compressed to heat this up. With temperatures of up to 60C this is then passed on to the heating system and can be used to heat water, radiators, or underfloor heating.

What are the positives?

·     They have a low carbon footprint: using electricity to collect ambient air from the surroundings, air heat pumps are considered a low carbon method of heating as not only is the use of electricity far more efficient, there are also no emissions unlike many traditional heating systems.

·     Cost Effective: Air source heat pumps have been found to be four times more efficient than gas and electric boilers. Instead of turning electricity or natural gas into heat, the electricity is used to collect and supress air. This uses drastically less electricity and allows households to save on their electricity bill.

·     Low Maintenance: Air heat pumps offer a sturdy design and with very few moving parts, they require very little maintenance. While it is recommended that air heat pumps are maintenance checked yearly, it is not a requirement, unlike boilers, that need to be maintained yearly.

·     Long Service Life: It is estimated that modern air heat pumps double of a typical domestic boiler, with boilers expected to last around 10-15 years. Air heat pumps are expected to last around 20-25 years.

·     Government Incentives: At the time of writing, (January 2023), the UK government is offering monetary incentives to encourage the installation of air heat pumps. This is spoken about in more depth below.

What are the Negatives?

·     Noise: With a fan mechanism in constant use, the units can be noisy and irritating. However, with more modern units boasting quieter designs, this can heavily depend on the unit.

·     Low efficiency in freezing conditions: Although air heat pumps can work in conditions as low as -20C they do loose efficiency in temperatures lower than 0C, as the air pump must work harder to heat up the air.

·     Your building must already be well insulated: For the air heat pump to be fully utilised and enjoyed, the building must be already well insulated. However, this the same with any heating system and is not an exclusive negative to Air source heat pumps.

·     The GPDO make it very difficult for air heat pumps to be installed: the General Permitted Development Order have lots of exclusions and regulations that make it very difficult for homeowners to get permission to install air heat pumps.

Government Incentives

At the time of writing this article, (January 2023), the government were offering multiple incentives to encourage property owners to install air heat pumps. If eligible, property owners could apply for a grant of up to £5000 per property to install an air heat pump. To be eligible for this grant you must Own the property, (including if it’s a business, second home or being rented out to other tenants) and be replacing current fossil fuel heating systems.

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