DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Uncategorised

No space for a heat pump? Here’s how your whole street could get off gas heating

Heat pumps can be expensive, So what are the options? David Barns from the University of Leeds explains

An engineer installs a heat pump, which can be on the large side

Heat Pump Intallation Sicamous BC

From spiralling fossil fuel prices and volatile supply chains to the worsening climate crisis, there has never been a better time to stop heating homes with natural gas. The UK has the chance to replace as many gas boilers as possible before another winter of punishing heating bills descends. But if, like me, you long to keep your house warm and comfortable while keeping costs as low as possible, it can be difficult to know what the best solution is.

Replacing a gas boiler with a heat pump is a good solution for many homes. Like a fridge in reverse, heat pumps take energy from either the air or ground and run a compressor using electricity to turn this into heat and hot water.

But what if you lack the outside space necessary, like residents of many terraced houses or apartments? Ground source heat pumps need some space for a borehole or a horizontal trench, while air source heat pumps are best installed where their noise won’t disturb those who like to keep windows open at night. An alternative is a district heat network, which channels waste heat from power stations or other industrial sources to homes and businesses, but they are most useful in dense urban areas where people live close to large sources of heat.

Shared ground heat exchange is another heating system you’re less likely to have heard of, but one report suggests it could be eligible in 80 per cent of UK homes. In common with ground source heat pumps, a shared ground heat exchange uses electricity to turn low-grade heat from boreholes into a cosy home with plenty of hot water. A street which had recently installed a shared ground heat exchange would show no sign of it, but each home would be connected to a set of shared boreholes that draw heat from the ground.

These can be installed well away from the houses and linked to them through a pipe running under the pavement. This gets around the need for each home to have outside space. Instead, each house would need a small heat pump of a similar size to a conventional gas boiler, which should fit snugly under most staircases or in an airing cupboard.

Shared ground heat exchanges can also return heat to the ground in summer, where it can be extracted later in the year, cutting the size and cost of installation.

Two large fan units beside an external brick wall.
Installing a heat pump can take up a lot of private space. Nimur/Shutterstock

If you want to replace your gas boiler with a heat pump, it’s typically your responsibility to instigate the work and fund the installation. This can prevent households low on time and money from making the switch to low-carbon heating.

Accessing a shared ground heat exchange could instead work a lot like signing up for broadband. A provider would install and operate the system, and as a household, you’d decide when you’re ready to ditch your boiler and connect. You would pay the operator a connection fee and then pay for heat through a normal electricity bill.

Allowing households the chance to connect when they choose without taking on any work themselves could deliver a much faster uptake of low-carbon heating. For instance, 8.5 million homes could enjoy heating supplied by energy from boreholes by 2050, compared to 2.1 million in current projections.

A diagram comparing heat pumps, shared ground heat exchange and district heating networks.
Shared ground heat exchange works best at the intermediate level. University of Leeds, Author provided

What’s the catch?

There are issues which need to be worked out for shared ground heat exchange to take off on a significant scale, but none of these are insurmountable.

There are currently only a few companies installing shared ground heat exchange in the UK, and installation costs remain high. This should change once new providers start to recognise the advantages this technology offers for decarbonising lots of home heating systems quickly.

If a company is to invest in drilling the boreholes and installing the pipework, they (and, importantly, their investors) will need to know that money will be repaid over time. This may mean it’s best for whole streets to join at the same time, requiring coordination, possibly by local authorities.

Shared ground heat exchange also suffers from a lack of awareness among national and local policymakers. Recent work from the Leeds and Leeds Beckett universities is aimed at addressing this gap.

Heat pumps and district heat networks are great in the right settings. As a combination of the two, and with the right support, shared ground heat exchange could help more households decarbonise their heating and hot water and stop relying on the imported gas which is inflating their bills.

David Barns, PhD candidate and research assistant in Shared Ground Heat Exchange Policy, University of Leeds

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Here's a radical idea to let communities buy empty homes and get rid of dodgy landlords
Housing crisis

Here's a radical idea to let communities buy empty homes and get rid of dodgy landlords

How you can help homeless refugees sleeping on the streets this winter
refugee hosting
Refugee Homelessness Crisis

How you can help homeless refugees sleeping on the streets this winter

How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair review – a compelling account of the Rastafari movement
Books

How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair review – a compelling account of the Rastafari movement

UK government may have broken law over sewage pumping. Could this be a 'turning point'?
Water pollution

UK government may have broken law over sewage pumping. Could this be a 'turning point'?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know