Demystifying the Heat Pump

Updated: Nov 11, 2021


One week into my experience at COP 26 and it’s abundantly clear, heat pumps are the future. The recent release of the Heat and Buildings Strategy and the commitment to deploy around 1.7 million heat pumps a year by the mid-2030s, means that heat pumps are now firmly on our radar. However, there’s still a huge portion of consumers who don’t know what heat pumps are, or how they work.

So how can the ADE and its members address this knowledge gap to support the nation-wide roll out of heat pumps? For starters, let’s talk about it.

Inclusive Language

Something I have learned in my past role as a Technical Officer at Home Energy Scotland, was to explain novel technologies in a way that makes sense to the consumer. This issue was raised at the recent Scottish Enterprise Event: Heat Innovation for a Cooler Tomorrow, by Donald Daw, of Mitsubishi Electric. Mr Daw explained how heat pumps are frequently described as “refrigerators in reverse”, but how many of us know the intricate details of how our fridge or other appliances work? When it comes to describing heat pumps, we need to go simpler again. Here’s my interpretation:

A heat pump collects energy from a source and moves it into a building. Electricity is used to amplify the source of heat, so that we’re distributing more energy around our buildings than we are consuming. The source can be many things such as air, water, the ground, or more novel sources, such as mine water. Additionally, heat pumps can distribute energy on any scale, be it to an individual home, or hundreds of homes and businesses.

Myth busting

The roll out of heat pumps requires faith in the technology and those installing it. Common misconceptions and consumers’ concerns need be addressed, such as:

Do they work when it’s cold outside?

Absolutely, heat pumps work to a temperature of –25oC.

Will my water be hot?

Yes, although you will need a hot water tank or thermal store.

Will I need more insulation?

Most likely – the more insulation you have less energy you consume.

Building Confidence

We need to bring everyone with us on our transition to net zero energy systems. That means we need a technology push, just as much as we need a consumer pull. Consumers need to be able to make an informed choice, where the benefits are clear. So, we need to keep talking about heat pumps, answering questions, stating the facts and sharing our enthusiasm for this low carbon, proven technology.

By Aisling O'Reilly, Project Coordinator (Energy) at the University of Edinburgh