Heat pumps: Can you get £5,000 to replace your gas boiler and will it cover the cost?

Why the government wants heat pumps, as ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

UK households are being offered £5,000 grants to replace gas boilers with more environmentally friendly heating methods, such as heat pumps.

This is part of the government's aim to cut heating emissions, where £450 million has been allocated to the boiler upgrade scheme. It will run over three years and serve 90,000 homes.

But what is a heat pump? Will £5,000 cover the cost of one? And will they help you to save money?

Some of the key questions are answered below.

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What is a heat pump?

An air source heat pump is installed outside your house. It uses electricity to take energy from the outside air and converts that into heat. Air source heat pumps extract heat from the environment even in cold weather.

There are also heat pumps that extract energy from water or the ground.

Heat pumps produce about three times the energy they use - this makes them much more efficient than gas boilers.

Gas boilers emit nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants, and burning gas gives off carbon omissions. With more electricity in the UK generated by low carbon sources like wind, heat pumps are a clean alternative.

How different are are heat pumps to run?

Heat pumps warm houses more slowly than gas boilers. With heat pumps, you don't get an immediate boost of heat like you do with gas.

This is because a heat pump heats water in the radiators to a lower temperature than a gas boiler.

However, the heat pump system works out the most efficient way to keep the house to the temperature you want.

Will I have to rip out my old boiler for one of these new technologies?

The government wants to make all new heating systems low carbon from 2035, and says that households will not have to remove their existing gas boilers.

The plan aims to help families make the shift to cleaner heat systems over the next 14 years, when they need to replace their boiler.

Insulate Britain protesters occupying a roundabout leading from the M25 Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

Do you have to change your radiators and install other equipment?

Radiators on heat pumps operate at a lower temperature than with gas. This means you may need to swap some of the oldest, single-panel radiators in your house for double or triple-panelled radiators. This will make sure your radiators are big enough to heat the room with a heat pump system.

Underfloor heating works very well with heat pumps because it operates at a lower temperature than radiators.

With current heat pump systems, you need a water tank to heat up hot water. However, new technology for heating hot water could mean you can heat water without a tank.

How much are heat pumps?

The average cost of installing a heat pump is around £10,000.

The cost of heat pump installation is expected to fall once they become more widely used.

Octopus Energy said it expects to nearly halve the cost within 18 months. The energy provider said it will install heat pumps for about the same cost as gas boilers once the government’s £5,000 grant scheme launches next April.

The grants aim to make heat pumps a similar cost to boilers, although how much of the installation costs for the low carbon technology will be covered by the funding will vary.

Do you save money with heat pumps?

At the moment, most people will not save money with heat pump systems compared to gas boilers.

However, the government has said it plans to make heat pumps cost the same to run as gas boilers by 2030. It has not set out how it will achieve this.

Although heat pumps use much less energy to create the same amount of heating, electricity is around three times the price of gas.

There are higher environmental taxes on electricity compared to gas. This adds 23% to electricity bills and less than 2% to gas bills. The taxes were brought in to help pay for renewable energy sources, to make electricity generation cleaner.

However, people with heat pump systems do benefit from some “time of use” tariffs. These allow people to use the electricity for running their heat pumps when it is off peak and therefore cheaper.

Do you need a well-insulated home to run one?

Having good insulation is key to heating your home more efficiently, whichever heating system you use. Good insulation will therefore save you money on heating bills.

You don't necessarily need a well-insulated home for a heat pump system to work well, but installing loft insulation or double glazing would help the heat pump run more efficiently - just as it would for a gas boiler.

Why is the government giving these grants?

More than a fifth of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions come from heating homes. The government's Heat and Buildings Strategy aims to reduce emissions.

It intends to make the UK the first country in the world to ban the sale of fossil fuel heating systems (which it will do from 2035), and sends out a strong message to world leaders on the eve of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The government is offering the grants now as it hopes that within a few years, heat pump and non-fossil fuel heating systems will be cheaper to install in the long term, as technology develops and more companies and households move towards cleaner heating systems.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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The government has launched the scheme on the eve of the UN Cop26 climate meetings in Glasgow Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

Who is eligible for the scheme?

All homeowners, small landlords, and private landlords in England and Wales will be eligible for the scheme. Social housing and new build properties aren't eligible.

The companies that install the heat pumps apply for the grant on behalf of their customers. The grant is then deducted from the amount that the customer pays for the heat pump installation.

Is there enough funding?

Environmental group Greenpeace has criticised the funding as being too low. Similarly, the Europe Regulatory Assistance Project - which focuses on making Europe more energy efficient - said the level of funding was too low for the government to reach its targets.

It is thought the funding will only allow 30,000 homes to benefit from the grant, just enough to support current installation levels, and not enough to meet the government’s target to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.However, Greg Jackson, the CEO of Octopus Energy said he hopes the grant scheme will help kickstart a cheap, clean heating revolution. Mr Jackson said this will allow his company and others to develop their technology and supply chains allowing them to install cleaner heating systems without the help of the government.