Are gas engineers up to the challenge of heat pumps?

Graham Hendra hears doubts from a surprising source and wonders what it says about our attitudes to technology.

This week I watched a video of proceedings in the House of Commons where the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee were debating the future of the heating industry with representatives from the gas sector and the heat pump sector. A white-haired bloke, who appeared to be around the same age group as President Biden was talking about how awful the transition to heat pumps would be for heating engineers, because for these poor folk, installing a heat pump would be like ‘rocket science’. Amazingly he was representing the Institute of Gas Engineers and Managers. Thanks Mate, stab your own in the back.

Aadil Qureshi, the boss of Heat Geek called his bluff. He retorted that heating engineers are generally very competent, happy to upskill and won’t be fazed by anything new. They just need a bit of help and training (You can watch the exchange for yourself from about ten and a half minutes in).

He is quite right of course. One of my jobs is teaching refrigeration and aircon at a local FE college. The students are very competent and they want to be up to speed with the latest developments. They join me with very little experience and due to hard work by them they leave as fridge engineers. Students of all ages and backgrounds are very open to new experiences.  I don’t know whether that surprises you – it surprised me initially.

Here is a parallel: In the 1980s, the fax machine became the thing to use. It was like witchcraft, you could write a letter and send it by phone using your machine. There were no fax machine engineers at the time, but people learnt how to sell, repair and maintain them in no time, because there was a market.

By the mid-2000s, fax machines were on the way out, because email had replaced them. Only the NHS kept using them. All those fax machine salesmen and women went onto pastures new. I’m sure there are still one or two people around who can still fix them but clinging onto the technology will not have helped anyone. The market changed and the people who succeeded were the ones who changed with it.

It’s the same with gas boilers and renewables. There is a new technology in town. The old duffers and vested interests, mostly male, stale and pale may try to hang on to the old technology. But renewables are here to stay and people are already changing with the market – and proving that it isn’t rocket science

Unfortunately, the leaders of the gas world, like our white-haired friend above are part of the problem. They are desperately hanging onto yesterday’s technology for as long as they can – but it is in danger of holding the whole industry back.

Senior industry people: It is your duty to encourage the engineers of today to move with the times. If you are unable to do this it’s time to move over old man (and you know It is just old men, I’m not being sexist).

I’m 52, so I expect someone to give me the same sort of advice too in a few years’ time. I’m going to get into resto-modding gas boilers into heat pumps,  or steam engine restoration. Mind you, I hear fixing fax machines can be great fun.

Graham Hendra is speaking at InstallerSHOW 2024 – running 25-27 June at the NEC.