Community wind turbines and heat pumps could be a win-win against fuel poverty and climate change

Are wind-powered heat pumps possible? New report reveals savings and barriers in the UK.
Are wind-powered heat pumps possible? New report reveals savings and barriers in the UK. Copyright Canva
By Lottie Limb
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Adding solar panels and a battery to the mix could make the cost and carbon savings even greater, according to a new report.

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Wind power and heat pumps are obvious assets in the fight against fossil-fuelled climate change. But have you ever considered how well the two might work together?

A new report from UK climate action charity Possible has done exactly that - and found they’re not only a match, but one capable of cutting energy bills by a third.

With 3,700 of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England located within 1km of onshore wind resources, there’s big potential for alleviating fuel poverty while tackling emissions.

“Replacing gas boilers with clean home heating will be vital to protect the climate. At the moment, one seventh of the UK’s emissions come from home heating,” says Possible.

“And a lack of clean, affordable heat is harming people too - not to mention costing the NHS [National Health Service] hundreds of millions of pounds each year to treat the health problems that come from living in cold, damp homes.”

So how can these two clean technologies be linked up? And what’s holding the UK and other European countries back?

How much money could a wind-powered heat pump save you?

As Nordic countries know, heat pumps continue to work well in winter. Wind power is also a reliable energy source through the colder months when it tends to be windier.

The report from energy experts Regen (commissioned by Possible) found that local wind turbines could directly provide two-thirds of the energy needed to run heat pumps in a typical community.

Home heating via a wind-powered heat pump instead of gas heating would cut carbon emissions by 90 per cent. And it's currently two-thirds less polluting than a heat pump run on grid electricity in the UK.

The cost savings are sizable too. Regen calculates that clean heat plus wind power could save households 26 per cent compared to gas boilers. Adding domestic solar and batteries into the mix takes this figure up to 31 per cent.

To reach these promising figures, the study modelled a 2 MW onshore wind turbine supplying a 2,000-strong community, where each household had an air source heat pump.

What’s holding wind power and heat pump systems back?

“The problem is that we’re just not moving fast enough to replace gas boilers with heat pumps,” Possible says. “To speed this up and make this easier for people, we need heat pumps to be cheaper than gas boilers.”

The way that charges are added to household energy bills in Britain makes electricity more expensive compared to gas. This makes it harder than it should be for people to get off the fossil fuel, the charity argues.

Another issue is the UK’s restrictive approach to onshore wind projects, which have effectively been banned since 2015. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak finally eased the planning rules towards the end of last year.

Possible also notes that communities need time, energy, expertise and funding to get local wind projects off the ground. But once they do, the benefits extend beyond cleaner, cheaper heating, as people also gain new skills and jobs.

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