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Underground energy to heat homes

Ground source heat pumps on the rise

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Unlike gas, mains electricity is available almost everywhere in the UK

Ground source heat pumps that convert energy from the ground into electricity could be installed in hundreds of thousands of homes within 10 years, a government report says.

According to the Environment Agency, installing ground source heat pumps in 320,000 homes and businesses – 1% of households and 11% of commercial buildings – could provide 30% of the renewable heat the UK needs to produce to meet its 2020 target.

Support needed

However, it adds that with enough government support up to a million ground source heat pumps could be installed. 

The support will come from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which will be introduced in 2012 and pay homeowners and businesses a guaranteed price for generating renewable heat rather than using gas or electricity.

There are currently around 8,000 heat pumps installed in the UK – but the market doubled last year, according to the report. The UK lags behind some other European countries, such as Sweden, where 4,000 heat pumps were installed last year alone.

Ground source heat pumps explained

Ground source heat pumps use the earth’s latent heat to help provide hot water and heating. They need electricity to power the pump, so cannot be considered ‘carbon neutral’ (unless this electricity comes from a renewable source, such as a solar panel or wind turbine).

According to the Energy Saving Trust, modern heat pumps are highly efficient and deliver three to four times the energy required to drive them. Most are able to provide a typical home with heating and hot water year round.

The cost of installing a ground source heat pump ranges from about £7,000 to £13,000. For more on heat pumps and other renewable microgeneration technologies see the Which? guide to home heating systems.

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