Poland, Estonia among states beating UK at heat pumps, leaving us 20% more dependent on gas imports

Imports would be fifth lower if UK had deployed heat pumps at same rate as Estonia

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By George Smeeton


Information on this page correct as of:

If the UK had already installed the same amount of heat pumps per 100,000 people as Estonia, our domestic gas use would be 107TWh or 34% lower than in 2021 and our gas imports in 2021 could have been cut by a fifth (19%), new analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has found [1].

Heat pumps have already replaced about 20% of the boilers in Europe [2] but the war in Ukraine is resulting in even more consumers turning to the electric heating systems as a way to reduce demand for gas whose price as increased significantly. For example, Estonia sold 1583 heat pumps per 100,000 people in 2021 and Poland sold 259 per 100,000 people, 25x and 4x more than the UK’s 63, respectively [3].

Total numbers of heat pumps are also a lot higher in most of Europe compared to the UK, which has just 280,000 heat pumps installed. For example, France has 3.1 million installed and Norway has 1.3 million [4].

The UK Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which aims to install 90,000 heat pumps over three years by offering a £5,000 grant for air source and £6,000 for ground source heat pumps, was launched in late May 2022 and will run until April 2025 [5]. Octopus Energy and Halifax recently announced a new pilot scheme that would see Halifax mortgage customers offered air source heat pumps for as little as £2,000 fully installed [6].

In September and October 2022, monthly installations of heat pumps registered by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) were around 2,500, with the number of installers taking part in the BUS almost doubling from around 450 to 900 since the launch of the scheme [7]. Currently, heat pump manufacturing sites in the UK include those in Cornwall, Derbyshire, Northern Ireland and Scotland [8].

Jess Ralston, Senior Analyst at ECIU, said: “They’ve been dubbed freedom pumps in the US because they reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The IMF has been clear that the UK is Europe’s most gas-addicted country. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme is essentially the UK’s down-payment on energy security. It’s driving down the costs to as little as £2,000 while driving up jobs for installers and manufacturers.” [9]

Alongside efforts in Europe the Inflation Reduction Act in the US is also supporting installation of heat pumps, leading to sales growing by 15% and 35% in the US and EU respectively. Global growth in the heat pump market 2021 was the highest on record at 13%.

Offering innovative business models such as heat as a service, where consumers rent heat pumps for 10-15 years, so avoiding upfront and maintenance costs, has been hugely successful in Estonia where demand for the service (20% of consumers) outstripped predictions (5% consumers) by four times [10].

Polling for the ECIU earlier in the year found that one third of the British public would be more likely to get an electric heat pump to help insulate the UK from Russia interfering in the gas market [11].

Notes to editors:

  1. Based on UK Government data on domestic gas demand and imports in 2021 and European Heat Pump Association data for heat pump sales in Europe in 2021.
  1. Bloomberg.
  1. European Heat Pump Association data for heat pump sales in Europe in 2021 adjusted for population and ECIU analysis. Note: different heat pump systems are in place in different countries, largely dependent on the heating system that is being replaced. For example, Estonia are likely to have a higher penetration of air-to-air heat pumps while the UK’s housing stock is more suited to air-to-water heat pumps.
  1. The Eco Experts, based on European Heat Pump Association data.
  1. UK Government.
  1. Business Green.
  1. Microgeneration Certification Scheme data on heat pump installations, Ofgem data on installers (can send source on request). Note: the data for installations includes those that were not carried out under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme – the proportions of those installed under the BUS are uncertain due to a lag in data collection and reporting under the BUS.
  1. Kensa manufacture in Cornwall, Vaillant manufacture in Derbyshire, Octopus Energy in Northern Ireland and Mitsubishi Electric in Scotland.
  1. The International Monetary Fund has found that the energy crisis is hitting household budgets in the UK the hardest in Western Europe.
  1. International Energy Agency for analysis of heat pumps policies globally.
  1. Polling conducted by Opinium 18th- 22nd March 2022. Sample size: 2,083 UK Adults, weighted to be nationally representative.

For more information:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: 07894 571 153, email: george.smeeton@eciu.net [currently in Egypt for COP27 – please use WhatsApp for urgent calls].