The answer is simple, there is no one silver bullet, but instead a range of regulatory, policy and social changes that are needed over a long period of time to drive those numbers upwards.
This report sets out a number of key policy recommendations to help us achieve the 600,000 heat pump installations a year target. The report adds weight to the growing body of evidence such as that provided by the Independent Review of Net Zero led by Chris Skidmore MP and the recent Climate Change Committee progress report on emissions reductions that have concluded we must focus on the rapid rollout of available solutions such as heat pumps if we are to have any chance of meeting our climate and net zero goals.
Key findings of the report
The overarching conclusion of this study is that France’s comparative success in heat pump deployment cannot be attributed to one silver bullet. Equally, there is no one single factor explaining why the UK has had low deployment.
Instead, numerous elements of the energy system have developed in a mutual and self perpetuating way that has reinforced the use of gas heating impeding the deployment of low carbon alternatives, including heat pumps. This has not been the case in France, where the landscape for heat pump deployment has been much more favourable. This is in part due to better, longer term policy decisions, but also as a result of a combination of other factors including some geographical and climate elements.
- Since the Yom Kippur oil crises in the 1970s, there has been a drive in France to achieve energy independence. This resulted in the development of the second largest nuclear power program in the world and a well-developed electricity grid. The UK, on the other hand, has had a stable domestic supply of fossil fuels, including natural gas. This resulted in the creation of a well-established gas grid and government-led transition to central heating in the 1960s and 70s.
- Since 2008, France has installed a substantial quantity of reversible air-to-air heat pumps. This technology functions similarly to air conditioning with the added market value of providing both heating and cooling. As France already had an established air conditioning industry due to their warmer climate in the South, there was already prior knowledge, skills, and business models, as well as consumer understanding of the technology which could be transferred to hydronic heat pump technologies.
- France has had a much more diverse mix of heating technologies, with the percentage of homes using gas boilers never exceeding 42%, compared to around 85% of homes in the UK.
- The lobbying power of the gas industry has far outweighed that of the heat pump industry in the UK, whereas France has had a strong electricity lobbying network that have advocated for heat pumps since the 1980s.
- Since 2008, France has had more coherent decarbonisation policy, regulation, and strategy. Conversely, in the UK there has been stop-start financial schemes, the scrapping of efficiency regulations, and a tax regime that has disproportionately favoured gas.
- France implemented its first new build efficiency regulation Régulation Thermique in 2012. This limited new homes (excluding apartment blocks) to a primary energy demand of 50kWh/ m²/year. As a result of the implementation of this regulation, the number of air-to-water heat pumps installed in new homes almost tripled in just three years. In contrast, the UK scrapped the Zero Carbon Homes Plan, the equivalent efficiency regulation for new builds, before implementation in 2016.
- In 2019, in collaboration with industry, the French Government redesigned the financial schemes introducing an upfront grant available to households of all incomes. This resulted in an 80% increase in air-to-water heat pump installations in 2019, as well as continued growth, with a record 346,313 installed in 2022.
- Since 2008, heat pumps have been better supported in government circles in France than in the UK. Home efficiency was the focus of Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign in 2017 in response to the riots against the carbon tax which highlighted the issues of fuel poverty. Contrastingly in the UK, the decarbonisation of heat has been politically unappealing as there is no magical policy panacea. Technology agnosticism and the possibility of hydrogen heating has resulted in policy inertia, which has ultimately favoured incumbent gas heating.
- Since 2008, France has succeeded in building a centralised, end-to-end professionalised heat pump industry that was worth €5.3 billion in 2019 and supported 32,000 jobs. In the same year in the UK, the heat pump industry supported just 2,000 full-time jobs2 and is still considered a ‘cottage industry’
- Up until 2021, running a heat pump could noticeably increase the cost of energy bills for a household in the UK, due to the high price of electricity compared to gas. Due to their expansive nuclear power generation France has had some of the cheapest, low carbon electricity in Europe and in 2020 a heat pump was cheaper per kWh than a gas boiler.