Time to show your hand BEIS.

14th May 2018


In poker (not that I’ve been to Vegas) there is a time when you have to show your hand. In the debate around off-grid heating, BEIS now need to show theirs.

What data are they using to base their decisions on the future of heating? What options are they considering for the future, given the very clear steer they have laid out in the Clean Growth Strategy? 

Like so many, I’ve asked the question, and I recognise a “line to take” response – I’ve used them often enough in the past to get out of a hole. When asked, what proportion of off-grid properties are suitable for heat pumps, the line from BEIS is “more than industry thinks, but less than we originally thought”.

So I was not surprised when some data came my way from one of the UK’s leading thinkers on off-grid heating (I hope he’s reading this). The database of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) was trawled through for properties off the gas grid, to assess what their ratings were as a proxy indicator of their suitability for a heat pump. 

As we all know, the nature of heat pumps requires high levels of insulation to retain the lower temperature heat they emit, which in theory then gives the householder the same degree of heat comfort as high temperature heat systems such as oil or LPG boilers. 

As a word of warning, I’m no cheerleader for EPCs. I’ve seen too many that are frankly not worth the paper they are written on; they measure costs of energy not the efficiency of energy (it’s technical but trust me on this) but BEIS use them; policymakers refer to them, so they are what we have to use. 

Looking at the EPCs of 640,536 off-grid properties, the research found just 74,144 or 12 percent, were in bands A, B or C – arguably suitable ratings for heat pumps. So yes, 88 per cent of off-grid properties, are currently unsuitable to use heat pumps without a massive investment in insulation (and we know how solid wall insulation is not economic unless someone else pays for it that is). 

For new build, with high insulation standards, heat pumps may deliver. For the 88 percent of existing homes off-grid, let’s consider sensible alternatives. Now if BEIS don’t agree with these numbers, call their bluff, time to show us your hand.

 Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE