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How can we encourage more uptake of heat pumps?

So last month I wrote a Hub article, which was a ‘PART 1’ about the challenges we face and the opportunities available for a renewable Air Source Heat Pump future.

It focused mainly on homeowners and highlighted the UK government’s target of 600,000 heat pump installs PER YEAR by 2028 meaning installations will need to increase by 10-fold over the next 5 years!

I did say that this month my ‘Part 2’ would focus on housebuilders/developers, landlords and commercial property owners.

Unfortunately, that Part 2 is going to have to wait until next month, because The House of Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee (E+CCC) has recently published a letter that needs to be discuss straight away.

We still need more gas installers to become heat pump installers

George Clarke George Clarke Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador

Praise for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme

In January I described and praised the government’s innovative Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) and it is worth recapping what the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is before addressing the criticisms raised about the scheme in the E+CCC letter.

BUS offers grants of between £5000-£6000 to consumers in England and Wales to buy and install air-source or ground-source heat pumps to replace their fossil-fuel-burning gas or oil-fired boilers.

You have to apply for the grant through an installer who is approved by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, and you need to have an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) that has been issued within the last 10 years, that makes no recommendation for loft or cavity wall insulation.

These conditions are fair enough, because it means that any consumer must use an approved and accredited heat pump installer (which they absolutely should!) and it ensures that a house is properly insulated before receiving any grant for a new renewable heating system.

Any heat pump system will perform better and will use less energy if your loft and walls are insulated as much as they possibly can be. So, this all makes sense.

Criticism of the BUS

Now, for the published Energy and Climate Change Committee’s letter written by committee chair Baroness Parminter.

The letter commends the underlying aim of the government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme (to push efficient, low-carbon heating systems into as many homes as possible), but states that the scheme is ‘seriously failing’.

The main criticisms highlighted in the letter from the committee were:

  • that low-income households were unable to afford a heat pump renewable heating system even with the support of the BUS grant.
  • that there is a lack of consumer advice so not enough people know about heat pumps and what they do
  • That inaccurate EPC’s may disqualify some households that may be eligible for the grant.
  • that there are not enough heat pump installers compared to the number of gas boiler installers.
  • that heat pump manufacturers were not expanding at the rate needed to meet the governments ambitious targets.

I have to pick up on each point made:

Low-income home’s support

Regarding low-income households. I COULD NOT AGREE MORE!

I’ve been saying for years that for low-income households to make the transition to renewable heating systems they are going to need WAY MORE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT than households on middle and high incomes.

People on low-incomes have MUCH BIGGER things to worry about right now than replacing their gas boiler with an Air-Source Heat Pump!

For me it’s really simple. The lower your household income, the more grant you should get from the BUS scheme.

However, it’s worth remembering that this government seem to have a massive problem with ‘means testing’ when it comes to energy. Just look at their ‘Energy Bills Support Scheme’.

Rishi Sunak announced that EVERY household in the country will get £400 off their electric bill in 6 instalments starting from October 2022.

Every household? Does a high-income household really need that support? NO! Does the squeezed middle need some support? YES! Does every low-income household need a lot more support? ABSOLUTELY!

I’m no mathematician and I certainly don’t work for the treasury, but surely the right thing to do is to give more money to those who need it most and don’t give it to those who really don’t need it at all. The government don’t seem to think so.

Please give low-income families MORE money from the BUS scheme. They need more government support and they are the ones that need to pay less money every to the energy companies.

Lack of consumer advice

Regarding a lack of consumer advice. Again, I COULDN’T AGREE MORE!

I work with Mitsubishi Electric because I’m passionate about what they do and believe in heat pump technology,

I’m passionate about homes being heated by clean and green energy sources, I’m passionate about the environment and reducing our dependancy on fossil fuels, I’m passionate about innovation in our housing industry and I’m passionate about reducing energy bills.

I’m also passionate about getting the message out there!

But, it still amazes me how SO few people, even people WITHIN the housing industry, still know very little or nothing about the benefits of Heat Pumps.

Any significant change, particularly in housing, requires everyone to be educated in the new technology, they need to understand it, they need to trust it and they definitely need to be made aware of the benefits of the making the transition to it as well knowing about any government grants that are available.

Just today, while I was filming on location, I thought I’d do my own little test. I asked everyone, from the film crew to the people working in a small factory (who were all of very different ages), if they had heard of the government’s new Boiler Upgrade Scheme. I must have asked over 30 people.

Not a single one of them had heard of it.

Not one!

Why isn’t every household in the county being given a brochure? Why isn’t every mobile phone number being sent an information text? Why isn’t the government and industry doing so much more to really get the message out there?

Inaccurate EPC’s

Inaccurate EPC’s are a problem.

I don’t like energy performance certificates at all. I never have.

When I had an Air Source Heat Pump system installed, I didn’t qualify for the government’s then ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’ because four small sections of my house walls weren’t insulated.

They weren’t insulated because it was virtually impossible to do it, but what wasn’t taken into account at all was that the rest of the house was ‘over-insulated’ way beyond the building regs.

Every single internal wall and floor was insulated (not a requirement of the building regs) and I’d installed triple-glazing everywhere!

However, I still didn’t qualify for the RHI. Bonkers!

I realise rules need to be set for funding, but there needs to be some flexibility in place, because not every house is the same. Some houses can be insulated everywhere. Others house can’t be insulated everywhere for lots of different reasons.

And if it is being proven that some EPC’s are inaccurate and are excluding potential heat pump consumers from government funding then that mess really has to be sorted out!

Maybe it is time for EPC’s to be replaced, by a better more flexible system, to allow more heat pump installs to happen.

Not enough installers

Not enough heat pump installers compared to gas installers.

Of course this is the case, because the first modern domestic gas boiler can trace it’s history back to 1868! The technology has been around for 155 years and the industry has been installing millions of them ever since!

Air source heat pumps for domestic heating are still in their relative infancy, and even though the technology is proven and it works brilliantly, we still need more gas installers to become heat pump installers.

But, that is also going to require more consumers to commit to the technology, to place orders and it would really help the industry if the government brought in legislation for existing homes to have their old gas boilers changed to heat pumps.

Replacing old gas boilers with new gas boilers in existing homes really isn’t the right thing for the country to be doing now or in the future, but that is what is happening, because there is no legal requirement for existing homes to transition to cleaner, greener heating.

There are currently around 16 million ‘owner-occupied dwellings’ in the UK. If everyone had to change their gas or oil-fired boiler to a heat pump system, then thousands of gas engineers would make the change to a heat pump installer purely because of supply and demand.

Also, I guarantee that if such legislation was brought in then the public would VERY QUICKLY become aware about what heat pumps were, how they worked and how they could access government support to make the change!

I have to say that manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi Electric, are pushing really, really hard to retrain as many gas boiler installers as possible and encourage new installers to the industry.

Their fantastic training programmes, which are growing at a rapid pace, will only get bigger as more people are made aware of the new technology and make the transition to renewable heating systems.


Manufacturers need to do more

Heat pump manufacturers aren't expanding enough to meet government targets.

This may be a valid point to make, but I do find it quite naïve by the House of Lords.

Believe you me, heat pump manufacturers WOULD LOVE to expand at an enormous rate, not just because is good for employment, good for business and good for UK GDP, but because it is the right thing to do for a zero carbon future.

They would love to grow. But, growth doesn’t just happen unless the House of Lords has a bag of magic beans they can throw at the industry!

Factories will naturally expand and increase production when all of the big issues listed above are sorted out.

Also, remember the Boiler Upgrade Scheme was only launched in May 2022. Manufacturers have been hit hard with low staff levels and disrupted supply chains because of Covid and because they are struggling to recruit, which we know is a national problem.

Give them a chance!

One thing I do know is that, as well as increasing demand and heat pump orders, there needs to be a big push for a massive apprenticeship scheme specifically for this field, supported by government, to encourage young people to come into the industry and grow it.

The industry IS changing and it needs more young people to come into it.

Consumer awareness, education, increasing manufacturing, training, retraining, increasing the number of installations, costs, grants, home assessments, apprenticeships, radical new legislation and government support are all linked together and need to be carefully balanced for such a revolution in the home heating industry to take effect.

If the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is ‘seriously failing’ then the balance between all of these parts clearly isn’t right at the moment.

Government and industry need to grip this and sort it out…AND FAST!

George Clarke is an Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador