a green alternative to heat pumps that nobody talks about


The UK government recently announced new grants encourage the public to switch from gas boilers to heat pumps, a greener energy alternative. But little has been said about electric boilers as another low-carbon option.

The UK aims to phase out gas-fired boilers and replace them with low-carbon technologies, such as heat pumps and electric boilers, in order to achieve net-zero CO₂ levels by 2050. Households are offered grants of up to £ 5,000 for low-carbon heating systems with the ambitious target of 5.5 million heat pumps installed in Great Britain. Brittany by 2030. There are currently no subsidies for electric boilers, but these could also help with the transition to low-carbon solutions for people living in smaller homes.

In 2019, 1.7 million gas boilers were installed in the UK, almost 2% more than in 2018. Gas boilers have long been the preferred option for consumers due to lower initial and running costs, with 80% of UK households currently rely on gas heating.

But electric boilers are extremely efficient, all the electrical energy they consume is converted into heat, unlike gas boilers, which only have a thermal efficiency of around 95%. They are also smaller than gas boilers and can be installed anywhere inside a home without the need for a flue. Although electric boilers are not designed to meet the heating demand in large homes, they are an ideal solution for apartments and small homes.

Read more: Should you opt for a heat pump? This is how they compare to a gas boiler

While many people are put off by all the necessary changes, they might consider an electric boiler. An air source heat pump requires space to install an outdoor unit, in addition to an indoor unit and a hot water tank (sometimes two). Ground source heat pumps require even more outdoor space and are generally more expensive. This will pose a challenge in many older and smaller homes across the UK. There are also concerns about heat pumps causing additional noise.

Compare heat pumps and boilers

Heat pumps are not a new technology, with different models and sizes available in the market and they are more efficient than gas boilers. They are designed to provide stable temperatures throughout the day, rather than using conventional gas and electric boilers “when needed”. Heat pumps use electricity more efficiently. However, electric boilers have considerably lower investment costs because they are cheaper and easier to install. Electric boilers rarely require major construction work, such as installing new radiators and water storage cylinders.

With a greater choice of gas boilers in the market at lower prices, electric boilers are rarely considered and some consumers are not even aware that they are an option. Denmark is a country that has recognized that electric boilers can be part of the green solution. In Denmark, heat pumps and electric boilers are part of the process of decarbonising the district heating network, with most of the electricity coming from wind power. Currently, around 40% of Danish energy is based on fossil fuels, and the government intention is to become completely free from fossil fuels by 2050.

Historically, the cost of electricity has discouraged UK households from opting for either of these options, even though studies show that the cost of electricity from renewable energy technologies, mainly wind and solar, is falling. The production of electricity from renewable energies was once more expensive than the combustion of gas. With the improvement in efficiency and technology, the cost of renewable energies has dropped dramatically over the past decade. And with increasing demand, prices will continue to fall.

Heat pumps and electric boilers rely on electricity operate. In addition to being generally more expensive than gas, some electricity still comes from carbon-intensive sources, which makes it less environmentally friendly. In the second quarter 2021, only 37.3% of the electricity produced came from renewable energies due to adverse weather conditions, less sun and less wind than expected. About the same amount of electricity was produced from fossil fuels and the rest from nuclear power sources.

To reach the UK net-zero electricity target by 2035, significant renewables capacity additions are needed at the same time as the shutdown coal-fired power stations. With electricity from renewable and low-carbon sources, a combination of heat pumps and electric boilers for home heating and hot water production will meet our energy needs in a sustainable and climate-friendly way.

When replacing a boiler, it is worth considering electric boilers as well as heat pumps as a greener alternative.
Ruslan Ivansov / Shutterstock

While heat pumps and electric boilers are effective solutions for combating carbon emissions, they are not the only energy-intensive technologies that are increasingly used.

With multiple technologies relying on electricity and with more electric cars on the road, it is also essential that the capacity to generate electricity is increased through renewable and sustainable sources.

Electricity prices have been volatile recently and a rise in energy prices is one of the main concerns for UK consumers, especially those considering a switch to electric heating. While price spikes are likely in the immediate future, the market should stabilize in the long term.

Alerting people to a green alternative to heat pumps for heating their homes that does not involve disruption and massive costs could well play a role in achieving our future environmental goals.

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