Europe is accepting heat pumps. Now the UK needs to follow.

Figures from the European Heat Pump Association indicate the UK was at the bottom of the list for domestic heat pump installations during 2021, with France, Italy and Germany taking the top spots.

In 2021 heat pump sales grew by 34% across Europe – an all-time high and great news for decarbonising our planet. However, although heat pumps are essential in meeting the UK’s government 2050 net zero targets, growth here was significantly lower.

A total of 42,779 air/water heat pumps were installed in the UK last year, far below what the independent Climate Change Committee suggests in The Sixth Carbon Budget ‘The UK’s path to Net Zero report’, which says that 27.2 million homes need to have a heat pump by 2050 to help meet net-zero targets. That equates to nearly 970,000 heat pumps installed each year from 2022, far removed from the current installation rate and more than the Government’s 10-point plan target of 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2030.

There is plenty in place to drive the UK low carbon market, so what’s going wrong?

For New Build Housing

In June 2022 changes, the UK building regulations Part L Conservation of Fuel and Power requires new properties to have a maximum flow rate of 55°C for space heating and wet systems; heat pumps operate best at a flow rate of 55 and lower.

Heat pumps can operate efficiently at much lower leaving water temperatures, however, this brings into line designs currently using natural gas and works to improve efficiency and carbon emissions of natural gas products such as boilers.  It remains to be seen that 55 will be the most effective limit as we move into a period using lower GWP refrigerants such as CO2 operating on higher water temperatures in turn reducing potential associated installation costs.

And the Standard Assessment Procedure in June 2022 (Scotland 2023) requires a 31% reduction over Target Emission Rate (TER) and new targets for primary energy performance targets.

Due to the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards for England and Wales, the government has a Decarbonisation Fund for housing associations because rental properties must be improved and upgraded with an Energy Performance Certificate [EPC] rating of C or above by 2025.

The fund is not all for heat pumps as it is ‘Fabric First, Low Carbon Technology Second’, and rightly so, but there will be growth here for heat pump systems.

The Future Homes Standard

There have already been calls to change the Future Homes Standard 2025, to bring forward the date of no gas boilers in new build housing; why wait for 2025? Wales stopped fossil-fuel boilers from being installed into new builds in October 2021.

With 160,000 new homes built each year, this would go some way towards increasing the UK heat pump market and providing somewhere for heating engineers to gain the experience needed to transfer their skills. Interestingly, France’s ban on oil boilers comes in this month (July 2022), and Austria bans gas in new buildings from January 2023.

For Property Renovation

There are financial incentives for property owners and homeowners to ramp up the renovation market and increase the energy efficiency of UK homes. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) opened on 23rd May 2022 to replace the domestic and non-domestic RHI as it allows for heat pumps up to 45kW but has not yet seemed to have helped increase the sales of heat pumps (air or ground) according to the Ground Source Heat Pump Association’s recent survey.

The BUS is intended to help pay towards 90,000 heat pumps over 3 years in England and Wales, giving an upfront zero-VAT grant to owners of £5K for ASHP and £6K for GSHP/WSHP that meet specific criteria

[read our blog on the Boiler Upgrade Scheme here]

Bringing Installers Onboard?

It is a mystery why plumbing and heating NVQs still do not include renewable heat pumps as part of the curriculum; surely this should be updated immediately to help new recruits from the start. By the time they have finished their course, they will only be able to work in the replacement and maintenance market.

There are now many training programmes in place, but not enough of them to transition skills from oil or gas to heat pump installation.

Training takes time and money, and more financial support is required.

A recent report by innovation agency Nesta, ‘How to Scale a Highly-skilled Heat Pump Industry’, estimates that at least 27,000 heat pump engineers will need to be trained in the next six years. And the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) recently announced how it had developed a training course working with MCS certification to equip oil engineers with the skills to transition to a low carbon installer.

Conclusion

According to the global campaigning network Greenpeace, the average UK home is the biggest energy waster in Europe. The UK also has one of the largest gas distribution pipe networks, so switching to a heat pump is not as easy to sell as it is for off-grid homes, unlike most of Europe.

As an industry, with support from the Climate Change Committee and Greenpeace, heat pump installations in the UK will help meet net-zero targets. Training is a big hurdle as getting engineers on courses takes time and money; a government tax rebate of 80-90% would certainly help here.

But is another reason why homeowners are not looking at heat pumps as a viable option the negative press coverage? Should we look at promoting and improving our advertising directly to property and homeowners, landlords and letting agents and spread the good work of our industry and heat pumps?

UK Housing Stock.

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