UK: The Heat is On

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) recently launched by the UK government has been met with mixed reactions.

The £860bn pound scheme is expected to increase green capital investment by £4.5bn by 2020 and will stimulate a new market in renewable heat. The number of industrial, commercial and public sector installations is expected to rise seven-fold by 2020.

Businesses that install low-carbon forms of heating such as Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) will be paid the RHI at 4.3p per kW hour of renewable heat produced for systems less than 100kW and 3p per kWh for systems above 100kW in quarterly installments over periods of up to 20 years. The RHI tariff will reduce the payback period to between 6-9 years on commercial heat pump installations.

Geothermal International, a company with over 80% share of the UK’s commercial GSHP systems, welcomed the scheme, saying it will transform the market. “We are delighted the Government has committed to encouraging a national switch to low-carbon heating. Ground Source Heat Pumps have a vital role to play in meeting targets to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 2050 – the technology is a proven renewable energy heating and cooling solution for the 21st century”, said Patrick Sherriff, Geothermal International’s marketing director.

The company has installed more than 160MW of GSHP systems in the UK, including Europe’s largest lake loop at Mansfield Hospital and the UK’s largest closed loop system at the One New Change building in the City Of London. Amongst its most typical customers are offices, retail developments, police headquarters, schools, hospitals, community centres, sports centres and even the UK’s first carbon-neutral church at Little Walsingham, Norfolk.

GSHP systems work by extracting the natural warmth stored in the ground all year round. A typical system consists of a buried earth loop connected to a heat pump. Liquid is pumped down the loop, where it gathers warmth from the earth, and is then compressed, raising its temperature high enough to be used in space heating a building. For cooling, the process is reversed. Working on a similar principle, a typical Air Source Heat Pump system draws heat from the air outside a building then uses a pump to concentrate the heat which in turn warms water for radiators. ASHP systems can supplement GSHP systems and can be readily retro-fitted.


Not everyone is so enthusiastic about the RHI, though. Green charity Environmental Protection UK (EPUK) has issued a warning that the scheme could lead to increasing air pollution, especially in urban areas.

Businesses and households will receive incentive payments to use renewable heat which includes biomass systems such as wood-fired boilers. But these biomass heating systems can release high levels of air pollutants when fuel is burnt, EPUK said. That presents a potential health risk in built-up areas.

According to figures from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, pollutants released by biomass heating systems, similar to those from vehicles, could contribute to up to 200,000 premature deaths a year.

EPUK suggests a location-based approach to renewable heat, with local authorities having a greater say in what types of system can be installed to ensure that pollution levels and potential health risks are minimised.

“The RHI highlights the need for a rethink on the Government’s microgeneration strategy,” said EPUK chair James Grugeon. “It’s a step in the right direction, but this broad-brush approach to installing renewables shows there is a lack of understanding about the local health impacts they can have and also where they work best.”

Friends of the Earth, another UK-based green charity, acknowledged the potential benefits of the scheme but also expressed concerns over the use of unsustainable biomass and incineration.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, appearing courtesy Justmeans.

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