New and Improved Heat Pumps on the Rise

The domain of home heating in the UK could be on the brink of rapid change. Those in the know are touting the latest advancements in heat pump technology as a significant step forward.

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Over the past 15 years, heat pumps have evolved from an inefficient option to a realistic alternative to traditional boilers. A significant factor in this transformation is the addition of new refrigerants, such as R290 (propane), which contribute to environmental sustainability and address some long-standing concerns among users.

Game-Changing Developments

One of the key developments in the heat pump industry is the adoption of new refrigerants, specifically ‘R290’. This refrigerant-grade propane is more environmentally friendly than alternatives, reducing the climate impact of potential leaks. While extremely flammable, R290 has proven up to 34% more efficient.

Graham Hendra, a former heat pump wholesaler now working for decarbonisation service Genous, highlighted the significant advancements. He said: "To get 50° was quite hard. Today's gas combi boilers are typically designed for flow temperatures of around 50 to 60°.

“The older heat pumps might have struggled to heat some homes adequately unless the homeowner decided to install larger radiators, for example. The increased surface area of such radiators helps transfer heat into the room. Engineers have gradually improved the technology, meaning that heat pumps are now able to supply much higher temperatures, sometimes in excess of 70°.”

Refrigerants play a pivotal role in the efficiency of heat pumps. Companies like Octopus Energy, Vaillant, Vattenfall and Daikin are leading the way in offering heat pumps that utilise not just R290 but also R744 (CO2) and R32. These gases enable heat pumps to operate efficiently in a much wider range of outdoor temperatures.

Shifting Perceptions Among Consumers

Despite technological advancements, some consumers remain sceptical due to the negative press surrounding heat pumps. There is a challenge ahead to convince homeowners to switch to heat pumps, but the introduction of new high-performance refrigerants should ease concerns.

Independent researcher Energy Systems Catapult has been conducting tests on various heat pump models, including those using R290. The results show that R290-based heat pumps consistently outperform their counterparts using older refrigerants. The BBC recently reported that more homeowners in the UK are deciding to make the switch. Sue Beesley in Cheshire claimed she now enjoys increased efficiency and a more evenly heated home.

While modern heat pumps offer improved efficiency and are beginning to convince consumers, there are more roadblocks ahead. Supply chain issues and a shortage of skilled professionals are potential blockers to the widespread adoption of this technology.

A Warmer Future?

The evolution of heat pump technology, fueled by new refrigerants like R290, is reshaping the way we think about heating in the UK. With the ability to achieve higher temperatures and increased efficiency, heat pumps are becoming a viable alternative to traditional gas boilers. As the industry addresses challenges and consumers become more informed, the shift towards heat pumps could accelerate.

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