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Authorities exploring use of heat pump water heaters in Singapore homes

The heat pump water heaters can help households to save energy, but they cost more than electric and gas heaters.

SINGAPORE: Authorities are looking at the feasibility of using heat pump water heaters in homes - technology which could result in substantial savings in electricity bills for home-owners.

A demonstration project will be carried out, and it will involve monitoring hot water usage patterns of households, and energy consumption.

The heat pump water heaters are said to be more energy efficient, as compared to conventional electric or gas water heaters. Distributors said electric and gas heaters consume about 3,000 watts of power.

In contrast, heat pump water heaters use just 210 watts. Instead of using electricity to heat the water, the pumps work by drawing heat from the environment and transferring that heat through a compressor into a water tank.

About 100,000 water heaters are sold in Singapore every year, according to distributors, and the most common are electric and gas heaters. However, sales of heat pump water heaters for home use is negligible, due to their size. The units can go up to a height of about 1.7 metres and are mostly used in landed homes only. Bigger ones are found in commercial properties, like hotels.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in 2012, water heaters accounted for 20.9 per cent of total household energy consumption, putting it as the second most energy-sapping household appliance, after air-conditioners.

But smaller ones are emerging in the market, and NEA is looking at using such water heaters for homes.

MORE EXPENSIVE, BUT GREATER COST SAVINGS

While heat pump water heaters could help to save more energy, they are significantly more expensive. Electric and gas heaters cost about S$400, while a micro heat pump water heater costs about S$2,000.

"The biggest hurdle we are facing is in terms of pricing because people are used to seeing S$400 heaters in the market. They are not used to seeing something with a much bigger price tag,” explained Ms Amanda Zhong, an executive at AOS Bathroom.

However, distributors said the savings are seen in the long term. A family of four using a heat pump water heater stands to save about S$600 a year in their energy bill or more than $2,000 in four years - enough to recoup the cost of the heat pump.

Madam Lucy Chow, who lives in a four-room flat, invested in a heat pump water heater about four years ago for her family of six.

"My electricity bill was around S$380 to S$400 but now I'm only paying about S$240, so when you look back, that's very huge savings that I'm getting,” she said.

For flats, micro heat pumps can be installed in the yard area, balcony or within the bathroom.

Said NEA’s Director for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Ram Bhaskar: “One of the reasons why heat pump water heaters are costly is that it is not a common appliance in Singapore and one of the objectives of the project is to encourage more suppliers to bring in different types of models that are suitable for our homes and we think that as more suppliers enter the market, the price can also come down. And if the price comes down it can also be feasible for homes to consider installing such water heaters."

The demonstration project will take a year to complete. It will start in the second quarter of 2016 and it will involve 150 households under Phase 1. This number will be whittled down to 30 households in Phase 2 and it will involve both public and private housing.