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If you are interested in understanding the debate about sustainable energy, the different policy options and the challenges they all present, we highly recommend the book Sustainable energy – without the hot air by David JC MacKay 2009 (ISBN: 9780954452933 / 978-1-906860-01-1). It is clear, intelligent and well-written. You can either buy it or legitimately download it from http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/sustainable/book/tex/sewtha.pdf.

In his book Professor Mackay makes the point that heating for buildings in Britain is primarily delivered by burning a fossil fuel, natural gas, in boilers with efficiencies of 78%–90%. He analyses various possible future solutions to heating the country’s buildings and reaches the conclusion that heat pumps are the basis of the best solution to this problem. As he says:

Let me spell this out. Heat pumps are superior in efficiency to condensing boilers, even if the heat pumps are powered by electricity from a power station burning natural gas. If you want to heat lots of buildings using natural gas, you could install condensing boilers, which are “90% efficient,” or you could send the same gas to a new gas power station making electricity and install electricity-powered heat pumps in all the buildings; the second solution’s efficiency would be somewhere between 140% and 185%.

He also looks at other options, such as using combined heat and power (CHP) systems. Although he identifies some cases where CHP is the ideal solution, mostly for commercial and industrial heating purposes, he points out that for nearly all cases ground source heat pumps are the heating solution with the least environmental impact – apart of course from turning the heating down or off or reducing demand by improving insulation.

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