Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

No Hands to the Pump!

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

No Hands to the Pump!

Article excerpt

Among the hundreds of files piling up on Chris Huhne's desk is a nice fat one marked "Renewable Heat Incentive" (RHI). He could easily sign it off, but let's hope he doesn't. For lurking in there is a potential [pounds sterling]35bn boondoggle that threatens to worsen energy supply problems and increase greenhouse-gas emissions.

Launched last winter by the then energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, the RHI is intended to encourage people to heat their houses and water using solar panels, woodchip boilers and ... heat pumps. These work on the same principle as a fridge, but in reverse, pumping heat from the outside to the inside. That way you get three or four times more heat in your house than you would by way of ordinary electric heating as used by toasters and immersion heaters.

The idea is that homeowners will be paid 7.5P per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of heat produced by air-source heat pumps (which pump heat from the air) and 7P for ground-source heat pumps, for a 20-year period, financed by a levy on everybody's energy bills. Payments will be based on a typical domestic heat requirement of 15,000kWh per year. So that's rather more than [pounds sterling]1,000 per year, per installation, for 20 years.

But there's a problem.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, carbon emissions are not actually reduced if air-source heat pumps replace gas or oil boilers, but only existing electric heating and coal-fired systems. Ground-source heat pumps are only slightly better. Yet the proposed guidelines do not specify where heat pumps should be installed to qualify for the subsidy. So the danger is that thousands of heat pumps will be drawing a subsidy of more than [pounds sterling]1,000 a year, while delivering no emissions benefit.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Then it gets worse. Almost all the heat pumps on the market use HFC gases as a refrigerant - global warming gases about 2,000 times more powerful than [CO. …

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