Heat pump breakthrough as firm installs UK’s first rooftop upgrade

Boris Johnson discusses introduction of heat pumps to UK homes

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The UK has received a major energy boost as a company is testing out a roof-mounted air source heat pump in a first-of-its-kind pilot project. Bellway, a residential property developer and housebuilder has installed the UK’s first heat pump built on the roof of an experimental eco house in a bid to explore new ways to incorporate low-carbon technology into homes. Green home upgrades like heat pumps have gained prominence over the past year, particularly as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent natural gas prices to unaffordable levels across Europe. 

Even though Britain does not import much gas from Russia, the UK buys gas at wholesale market prices. Given how reliant the country is on gas when it comes to heating, the UK has been one of the worst hit by the energy price rises. 

In such an environment, green home upgrades like insulation and heat pump installations have gained more prominence, as these technologies reduce your reliance on expensive natural gas, and thus can even save money. 

This new rooftop heat pump will be tested in Bellway’s experimental eco house, The Future Home at The University of Salford as part of a research project.

In a bid to boost heat pump rollout in the UK, the Government has launched the £450million Boiler Upgrade Scheme this year, which is helping make heat pumps are now priced much more competitively compared to gas boilers, by offering up to £5,000 in grants. 

Heat pumps are now being installed in many households looking to take advantage of this scheme, where they are usually fitted to, or adjacent to, an exterior wall.

One critique of this technology, according to Bellway, is that heat pumps can dominate the external appearance and take up valuable outdoor space.

To solve this issue, the company has created a house that can support a 200kg air source heat pump within its roof space, while a second unit will be attached to an external wall to help draw a comparison.

This Future Home is being built by Bellway inside a climate-controlled chamber at the University of Salford, as part of a £16million Energy House 2.0 research project.

This project, which is being partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund, will help researchers test low-carbon technologies and their impact on the cost of living.

Jamie Bursnell, group technical and innovations manager for Bellway, said: “Installing an air source heat pump within a loft space is a bold move – one that no UK developer or retrofit project has previously attempted.

“During the research period, we will have people living within the home to test the performance of the heat pump during real-life use. If the unit in the loft performs well, it could create a new way for homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint without compromising on space or aesthetics.

“It is well documented that air source heat pumps could increase running costs but so far there is little reliable data on their performance. We are looking to find the optimum settings to maximise effectiveness and minimise costs for our customers. We will be able to compare the data from the two heat pumps to determine the most viable option for the future.”

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This project will also be looking into underfloor and infrared heating, along with a range of innovative low-carbon technologies like mechanical ventilation, double versus triple glazing, and battery storage for solar energy.

Researchers will also test out a shower which transfers heat from wastewater to warm the incoming mains supply mains, which would then reduce the energy demand from the shower.

Mr Bursnell added: “The eyes of the new homes industry are focused firmly on this trial, but its impact could be much broader. The results could influence how householders make decisions as they replace their boilers in the coming years.”

In a bid to phase out gas boilers, the Government has announced that from 2025, all new homes built will be required to have an alternative heating system like heat pumps.

In the UK’s Energy Security Strategy, the Government set 2035 as the date “by which we intend to phase out the sale of new and replacement gas boilers.”

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