The UK’s commitment to meeting binding EU carbon reduction targets translates to the practical challenge of installing 6.8 million domestic heat pumps by 2030. Phil Hurley, managing director at NIBE, looks at what the industry must do to take these numbers from projection to reality – including the pivotal role of the installer.
As an EU member state, the UK is obliged to reduce carbon emissions by 20% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2020 – and part of this means generating 12% of all heating from renewable sources. These are big numbers, especially when you consider we’re currently only sourcing around 2% of our heating from renewables. If we’re serious about hitting these targets, the mass rollout of renewable heating technologies in homes across the country is the only way forward.
Heat pumps have a fundamental part to play in this – and as a nation, we’ve recognised their potential by tasking ourselves to boost installations to 6.8 million by 2030. To put this into context, there are currently an estimated 110,000 heat pumps installed in UK buildings.
Make the most of subsidies
What’s more, although it’s not yet clear exactly what the new reforms will look like, or how they will affect heat pump tariffs, it’s almost certain that the technology will still be a prominent part of the RHI mix. It’s also highly unlikely that any planned changes will pass through parliament and be made official in time for the start of the new financial year in April. For this reason, at NIBE we expect to see the RHI continue in its current format for the entirety of the financial year 2016/2017 – which is positive for heat pumps as the current tariffs stand.
Spread the word
This is where installers takes centre stage. Often the first port of call for consumers looking for a new heating system, tradespeople are a trusted source of advice and expertise. This makes them naturally placed to lead the communication process – explaining the advantages of heat pump technology in layman’s terms and showing the quality, efficacy and breadth of systems available. Heat pumps are still a relatively unknown entity to many consumers (most of whom are far more familiar with traditional fossil fuel-based systems) – so they are very unlikely to be confident enough to invest without this reassurance and guidance.
Reputable manufacturers should also be offering installers the right tools to showcase the benefits of heat pumps effectively. Accessible and appealing marketing collateral, such as product brochures and other sales aids, can go a long way towards helping homeowners understand exactly why renewable heat is the smart choice for the long term.
Build a strong workforce
With this in mind, investing time and money into developing and nurturing a wide-reaching workforce of highly skilled, highly motivated installers should be top of the agenda – both for manufacturers and for installers themselves. It all starts with proper training. As things stand, there are only around 1,200 MCS-accredited heat pump installers in the UK – which makes the 6.8 million installations target seem even more ambitious. While the onus is certainly on manufacturers to offer engaging training courses that entice more heating and plumbing engineers into the heat pump business, installers themselves should also be proactive about upskilling – especially given the significant commercial benefits that are in it for them.
That said, there is currently a great deal of red tape around MCS accreditation, which is understandably putting some installers off. That’s why at NIBE, we’re calling for the MCS process to be simplified and made more cost-effective. We believe this would make the heat pump opportunity even more attractive to installers – who will, in turn, make it attractive to their customers.
Drive legislative change
It’s for this reason that NIBE has joined forces with other industry leaders to campaign for certain efficiency-enhancing measures to be made obligatory when gas boiler systems are installed in new-builds. For example, we want every new-build system to include a modulating heating control (like a weather compensator) in line with relevant ErP guidelines. If this were the case, systems would only use the exact amount of fuel they need to equal a building’s heat loss. What’s more, boilers can only operate at optimum efficiency if the system return temperature is below 55°C – so we are also asking for this to be set as a legal maximum.
Changes like these would help lay the foundations for future heat pump installations by making today’s heating systems ‘low carbon technology-ready’. They would also have the knock-on effect of stripping away the market barriers that currently only unfairly challenge the low carbon heating industry, and not the gas boiler industry.