Will heat pump numbers meet 2030 predictions?

When the solar industry received a kick-start by way of the Feed-in Tariff, the prospect of profiting from renewable technology captured widespread attention. Market response to the high value subsidy was vibrant and rapid growth occurred.

Seeing the dynamic success of many companies in the solar market, many of us hoped the heat pump market would have been a similar success. It is difficult to understand why the heat pump industry did not receive sufficient support to create a similar result.

Unlike wind turbines or PV, the heat pump is one of the few predictable sources of renewable energy, and therefore should be valued on a much higher level than unpredictable and intermittent renewable sources.

In 2012, I placed a lot of faith in the content of two reports that I came across. One was compiled by Ecuity Consulting, which examined the policy means to deliver the 6.8 million installation target set by the Climate Change Committee. Another forecast published by the National Grid appeared online at the same time telling a similar story, and quoting a similar number of heat pumps to be installed by 2030.

It all makes interesting reading, but it also seems clear that we are currently not reaching the anticipated figures, by a long way. In last month’s issue we looked at reasons for slow growth of the heat pump market and concluded that low SPFs and low RHI payments are the main obstacles – or are they?

If we believe the six million heat pump forecast, installations would need to total no less than 450,000 units per year to hit the target by 2030.

The enormity of the numbers raises yet another concern, and possibly the single most tangible reason for holding back the growth rate of our industry. Can we actually generate enough power here in the UK to support these numbers?

To give this issue some perspective, assume a heat pump of 12kW thermal output, apply a performance factor of 3:1 and assume the input energy would be close to 4kW. This figure, multiplied by the total number of heat pumps accruing at 450,000 per year, equals the extra energy required.

Although this collective total load is based upon all heat pump units running simultaneously, the probability is extremely high. Similarities in weather patterns across national regions will increase the coincidence of units running simultaneously. The total energy required to power 450,000 heat pumps would be 1.8GW. Electrical demand, increasing by 1.8GW each year for the next 15 years, will total 27GW by 2030.

This would mean increasing our current energy production capacity by at least 27GW, before 2030 arrives. Our current average energy usage for UK varies around 35/45GW, and peaks occasionally at around 50GW. The anticipated number of heat pumps will almost double the amount of electrical energy used in the UK today.

So, if the RHI payment could be increased in value, will our electrical grid be able to keep up with the higher demand from more installations?

The low level of support has disappointed many, particularly when heat pump technology has a unique place within the scope of renewables.

Common sense would suggest there should be greater rewards for predictable energy than unpredictable.

In the low carbon world we want to create, the heat pump is the only economical electrically powered heating system, and must eventually become the preferred option. The question is when?