Greener heating systems boosted by government incentives

Switching to ground or air source heating systems is more viable thanks to new incentives. Sharon Dale reports.
Richard Dutton with his NIBE  ground source heat pumpsRichard Dutton with his NIBE  ground source heat pumps
Richard Dutton with his NIBE ground source heat pumps

A recent rise in government incentives for those who fit renewable energy systems is making air and ground source heat pumps more attractive.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments are paid to homeowners for seven years after installation. New rates were introduced late last year to encourage homeowners to make the switch from fossil fuels and help the government meet its sustainable energy targets.

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Ground source heat pumps have seen RHI payments, measured in the amount of energy generated, rise from 19.64p/kWh to 19.86p/kWh and from 7.63p/kWh to 10.18p/kWh for air source heat pumps.

A ground source heat pump fitted in a three-bedroom house could generate annual payments of around £2,173 per year, which is £15,215 over seven years. An air source heat pump fitted in a typical three-bedroom home could generate an income of more than £961 per year, which is £6,727 over seven years.

While mains gas is still cheaper, properties off grid, which rely on oil or LPG (liquid petroleum gas), can see fuel savings of between 30 to 45 per cent by opting for greener alternatives.

“The new RHI payments have made a big difference, especially in the case of air source heat pumps, which have seen a very generous uplift.

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“If you add up the RHI payments and the fuel savings, the pumps make good financial sense and now is the time to buy as the government has confirmed that the RHI scheme will run until 2020. We aren’t sure what will happen after that,” says Robin Adderley of NIBE Energy Systems, whose parent company is based in Sweden, where heat pumps are the norm.

The cost, including installation, depends on size of house and heat needed but NIBE says an average air source heat pump system for a three to four-bedroom home is between £6,000 to £9,000, while an average ground source heat system is £15,000 to £20,000.

Fuel savings against heating oil can be as much as 30-45 per cent depending on the price of oil and LPG and the efficiency of the heat pump.

Air source heat pumps run on electricity and work by absorbing heat from the air outside to run heating and hot water. The units are placed outside your home on a wall or on the ground and are easy to install.

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Ground source heat pumps work via pipes laid underground, either horizontally, in which case you need land that is two-and-a-half times the floor area of your property, or vertically in a borehole. Water in the pipes absorb warmth from the earth and transfers it to a heat pump. You need a utility room or garage to house the pump and cylinder.

Installation costs have fallen over the past few years, according to NIBE, as the technologies become more user-friendly and contractors become more familiar with the systems.

It is still much easier to install ground and air source heating systems in new-build properties but retro -fitting is getting easier, according to Robin Adderley.

“Heat pumps can be linked to existing radiator systems and experienced installers are now used to doing that.”

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The Dutton family, who live in a 200-year-old converted barn near Pateley Bridge recently replaced their old LPG gas heating system for a ground source heat pump.

As the property is 2,700 sq ft, Yorkshire Heat Pumps installed a NIBE system with two 12kW ground source heat pumps, a 200-litre water cylinder and a buffer cylinder.

A total of 1,500 metres of pipe was laid 1.2 metres beneath the paddock adjacent to the barn and the pumps are housed in a garage next to the house.

Richard Dutton says: “The ground source heat pump system has solved all our heating and hot water concerns and allowed us live in a property which we can maintain at a steady 18°C rather than having heat on for a couple of hours in a morning and the same in the evening. “The RHI payments will assist in minimising our energy costs.”

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The payments should generate £4,344 per year and a system of this size costs about £31,707 to install.

*A guide to RHI from NIBE is at Yorkshire Heat Pumps,