Heat pumps are more than twice as efficient as fossil fuel heating systems in cold temperatures, research shows.
Even at temperatures approaching -22 F, heat pumps outperform oil and gas heating systems, according to research from Oxford University and the Regulatory Assistance Project thinktank.
Heat pump uptake is rising in many countries as fossil fuel energy prices have soared following the invasion of Ukraine and as governments seek to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
But the UK has lagged far behind. France, for instance, installs 10 times as many heat pumps as the UK, where many people are unfamiliar with them and doubts about their efficacy have been widely publicized. Reports have spread that they do not work well in low temperatures despite their increasing use in Scandinavia and other cold climates.
“There has been a campaign spreading false information… People don’t know much about heat pumps, so it’s very easy to scare them.”
The research, published in the specialist energy research journal Joule, used data from seven field studies in North America, Asia and Europe. It found that at temperatures below zero, heat pumps were between two and three times more efficient than oil and gas heating systems.
The authors said the findings showed that heat pumps were suitable for almost all homes in Europe, including the UK, and should provide policymakers with the impetus to bring in new measures to roll them out as rapidly as possible.
Jan Rosenow, the director of European programs at the Regulatory Assistance Project and co-author of the report, said: “There has been a campaign spreading false information about heat pumps [including casting doubt on whether they work in cold weather]. People [in the UK] don’t know much about heat pumps, so it’s very easy to scare them by giving them wrong information.”
The Guardian and the investigative journalism organization DeSmog recently revealed that lobbyists associated with the gas boiler sector had attempted to delay a key government measure to increase the uptake of heat pumps.
The UK government is consulting on proposals for incentives to households to take up heat pumps, which at about £7,000 (about $8,760) or more can cost two or three times as much up front as gas boilers. Boiler companies are also to be penalized if they fail to sell enough heat pumps, under a “market-based mechanism” that will require them to sell a certain quota of heat pumps or pay a penalty.
Some proponents of gas boilers have railed against the quota, which they claim will add costs to consumers, and at least one boiler company has responded by telling customers that the price of new gas boilers is likely to go up as a result of this green measure.
The UK is increasingly out of step with a strong international push towards low-carbon heating. Yannick Monschauer, an energy analyst at the International Energy Agency, said: “Worldwide, the share of heat pumps in heating equipment sales is set to more than double by 2030 under today’s policies, as deployment also accelerates in colder climates.”