Commercial Heat Pumps can accelerate the NHS's road to Net Zero targets


19 June 2023

By Tim Rook, Chartered Engineer for Clade Engineering

The NHS has set an aggressive goal to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the UK Government’s national goal. This means that the NHS aims to reduce its carbon footprint to as close to zero as possible and offset any remaining emissions.


The NHS’s Net Zero targets include:

  • Reduce emissions from buildings and transport by 80% by 2028-2032, compared to 1990 levels
  • Achieve net zero emissions from buildings and transport by 2040
  • Implement sustainable healthcare practices, including reducing waste, water usage, and travel emissions
  • Increase the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures in healthcare facilities
  • Develop sustainable procurement policies and practices to reduce the environmental impact of goods and services purchased by the NHS

Commercial heat pumps will speed up these net zero plans. They are an innovative energy-saving device that can drastically lower carbon emissions from buildings. In order to heat or cool interior areas, the pumps draw heat from the air or ground. This contributes to a reduction in carbon emissions and the advancement of sustainability by lowering the energy required to heat and cool structures.

These goals are a component of the NHS’s larger effort to address how climate change is affecting people’s health and to advance environmentally friendly medical procedures. The NHS will have saved £250 million by 2034.

And heat pumps present a huge driver towards these energy savings and reduced emissions.


Advantages of Using Commercial Heat Pumps in Hospitals

How can we ensure that even in places where resources are scarce, our hospitals and trusts have enough environmentally friendly, renewable electricity and heat? Commercial heat pumps are a type of HVAC system that uses renewable energy sources to heat and cool buildings, reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

“The NHS uses enormous quantities of heat and hot water to provide safe and effective healthcare for patients. Currently, this is generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, a high cost and high carbon activity. Heat pumps are the only scalable, available and viable low carbon heat generation technology. In particular, natural refrigerant heat pumps offer a very low carbon sustainable heating option. CO2 heat pumps can generate very high temperatures suitable for hospitals where cleanliness and hygiene are of vital importance” says Tim.

Compared to conventional heating and ventilation systems, commercial heat pumps bring these top benefits;

  1. Use less energy and have lower running expenses because they are energy efficient
  2. Renewable energy, which lowers carbon pollution
  3. NHS facilities can use them for heating, cooling, and hot water, and they deliver consistent and warm interior temperatures
  4. Improved indoor air quality
  5. Compliance with regulations and standards

Heat pumps can be three times more efficient than boilers and emit no carbon dioxide when linked to a low-carbon, off-grid, or net metering tariff. To supply renewable energy to NHS sites, more facilities can use commercial heat pumps in addition to solar panels and wind turbines.


How do Heat Pumps work?

Heat pumps operate efficiently by absorbing heat at a low temperature from the air or ground, increasing that heat to a higher temperature and transferring it into your commercial space, without producing any harmful emissions. Heat pumps absorb the energy from the environment and ‘concentrate’ it using a compressor for use in buildings, to provide heating and hot water. The compressor runs on electricity, the ratio of electricity to heat is the key performance measure and should be between 2 and 4 or even greater.

Air source heat pumps are more ecofriendly, and make up for around 94% of the heat pump market. They include CO2, and Propane heat pumps.

CO2 heat pumps are great for high temperature and work through using CO2 as the natural refrigerant fluid.

They’re efficient, non-toxic and also cheaper over other heat pump alternatives. Heat pumps can reduce your carbon footprint and energy bills in the long run, and are much more sustainable compared to gas boilers - which produce more CO2 per unit energy produced.

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Why heat pumps play an essential role in the NHS’s decarbonisation targets

NHS Hospitals and Trusts across the UK can benefit in many ways from installing a heat pump in their premises, and will contribute to:

  1. Lower Energy Bills
  2. Improved Local Air Quality
  3. Improved Energy Security - Moving Away from Fossil Fuel Imports
  4. Access to Flexibility Markets for Further Energy Cost Reductions


Installing a heat pump in our hospitals

The NHS is a healthcare service that can never turn off, running 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Before determining what heat pump a hospital would need, a professional heat pump engineer would carry out a feasibility study to cover the big questions such as; space, noise, power supply and suitability. This will then progress into the design stages before installation. It is vital that the whole system is commissioned properly and then serviced correctly for safety, and maximum efficiency. The first year of operation is where the heat pump is optimised to work in all conditions, this engineering support is key to long term success.

Generally, heat pumps are installed in car parks / open space around the building or on the roof. They need good air flow to operate correctly. The hot water is then piped into the existing boiler location and distributed from there. Occasionally, some modifications are required to the heating system which can also make things even more efficient. A power supply is also required, this will come from the nearest supply or sub-supply location.

Examples of Healthcare Facilities that plan to implement Commercial Heat Pumps NHS trusts are leaping into net zero plans as heat pump installations increase across the UK. Here are the targets within each nation.

  1. By 2045, Scotland’s NHS hopes to reach net zero
  2. To reach a larger goal of a net zero public sector by 2030, Wales’ NHS has agreed to a 34% cut
  3. The English health and social care system reduced its carbon impact by 62% between 1990 and 2020 and reduced its water footprint by 21% between 2010 and 2017

And with further heat pump installations planned, the NHS is moving fast towards meeting net zero targets. Here are some examples of NHS trust commercial heat pump installations planned as of March 2023 with the support of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.

  1. All three buildings at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust—the Ashton Centre at Pinderfields Hospital, Woodkirk House and Cullingworth Nurses Home at Dewsbury District Hospital—will have air source heat pumps fitted.
  2. Eccles Town Hall, Woodhouse Park Leisure Centre, Dial Park Primary School in Stockport, Shevington Library, an office building at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, and three other council office buildings are among the buildings at Greater Manchester Combined Authority where heat pumps will be installed.
  3. A number of NHS Trusts and services buildings, including West Park Hospital and New Cross Hospital at the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, Walsall Manor Hospital at the Walsall NHS Trust, Sandwell General Hospital at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, and a training academy and hospital hub of West Midlands Ambulance Service, will have air source heat pumps installed by the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust.
  4. All the structures at Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, including the MRI scanning unit, the orthopaedic unit, and the paediatric evaluation unit, will be decarbonised. Air source heat systems will take the place of old boilers.

You can read more about upcoming heat pump installations at NHS trusts here.


What Challenges Are Being Overcome

There are associated challenges with implementing heat pumps. These are less of a hindrance as the NHS pushes towards net zero targets. Implementing commercial heat pumps in healthcare facilities has hit stumbling points yet persevered as a solution. Some challenges included:

  • The initial cost of installation and retrofitting.
  • There may also be limited space and access for outdoor units, noise and vibration issues, and potential impact on patient comfort and safety.
  • Proper maintenance and training for staff is also required for optimal performance.


The Benefits of Using Commercial Heat Pumps in Healthcare are clear

Healthcare facilities must continue to consider implementing commercial heat pumps as part of their carbon reduction strategy. Since heat pumps don’t need any venting, the NHS trusts can install them in any room of a building. They are therefore perfect for healthcare facilities, which are frequently housed in older structures with limited room and an inability to install conventional heating and cooling systems. Commercial heat pumps are a sustainable and effective choice for heating and cooling buildings. NHS facilities should maintain this low carbon solution as part of their carbon reduction plans.