Unlocking the heat pump revolution

HPA's Charlotte Lee

Charlotte Lee, Chief Executive of the Heat Pump Association, reflects on the future for heat pumps.

Four months in, and it’s safe to say I’ve joined at an exciting and very busy time. The heat pump industry is undergoing a remarkable transformation, presenting us with a multitude of opportunities that can sometimes get lost amidst the challenges that are present but are often exaggerated and distract from the task at hand. There is much more to celebrate than suits those who try to keep the narrative on the negatives, so we need to pause and acknowledge the positive developments currently unfolding, whilst continuing to learn from the challenges encountered along the way.

Whilst my primary focus lies with heat pumps, it is clear that a diverse range of technologies and solutions will be needed to enable complete grid decarbonisation. The Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) recent report highlighted the significant challenge we face, but it also acknowledged the growing demand for heat pump installers.

The report noted that the current number of qualified installers in the UK is insufficient to meet this demand, with most of the (small) cohort already oversubscribed. Whilst there is a skills gap and a need for greater familiarity with low carbon heating systems, our emphasis should be on the opportunities ahead and finding solutions. The imminent launch of the Low Carbon Heating Technician Apprenticeship serves as a positive example of the industry’s ability to deliver. Ultimately, the skills gap creates a fantastic career prospect for those considering entering the field and signifies the growing recognition and acceptance of heat pump technology among consumers.

Recognising this, the government has introduced a £5 million Heat Pump Training Grant, aiming to retrain and upskill 10,000 engineers. Through training programmes and support, we can nurture a generation of experts who will champion heat pumps and drive decarbonisation on a practical level. Installers are the ones who directly interact with consumers and are essential to the transition, and thus their position in the roll out of heat pumps and green technologies should not be undervalued.

Heat pump commitment

We often call for more government support, but we must also recognise the encouraging signs of growth the heat pump industry has experienced in recent years. We’ve seen large house builders commit to installing heat pumps in new homes, prior to the introduction of the Future Homes Standard, demonstrating their commitment to decarbonisation.  Our projections for the first half of 2023 estimate a growth in heat pump sales of around 10% based on 2022 figures. The Department for Energy, Security and Net Zero recently reported a 16% rise in applications for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) in May compared to April, indicating increasing interest. Other funding schemes, such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), Home Upgrade Grant, and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund have also witnessed record-breaking months for heat pump installations. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of installations under each scheme in April, totalling 2,242.

Whilst we need to go further, these positive indicators highlight the progress made and emphasise the industry’s potential for further growth and impact.

To further expedite the adoption of heat pumps, the government has launched the Heat Pump Investment Accelerator Competition which focuses on fostering innovation, research, and development within the industry. This initiative plays a critical role in diversifying the UK supply chain and increasing domestic manufacturing capacity to support the deployment target of 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028. The heat pump market has already witnessed significant expansion in terms of product variety and efficiency, allowing consumers to choose from a wide range of heat pump solutions that cater to their specific needs and preferences. From smaller 3kW heat pumps to larger 80kW heat pumps, reduced noise levels, refrigerants with lower global warming potential, and simplified controls, there are plenty of choices. This variety makes the transition to sustainable heating far more accessible and appealing for households so accustomed to fossil fuel heating.

Whilst the transition to heat pumps requires a level of familiarisation from homeowners and installers, it is encouraging to see recent research conducted by Nesta, which sheds light on the significant level of satisfaction among heat pump system users and indicated just over half (55%) of households requiring fabric efficiency upgrades.

The government-commissioned Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project, which received interest from nearly 9,000 households, further demonstrated the effectiveness of heat pumps, even in the UK’s least efficient homes.

Positive news  

A recent report from the European Heat Pump Association showcased the substantial growth in heat pump deployment across several European countries, demonstrating that change is indeed achievable. As heating is predominantly driven by policies and factors such as necessity, cost, familiarity and convenience, there is no escaping the role the UK government must play in taking swift and decisive action to meet its target of 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. This can be accomplished by implementing the Future Homes and Buildings Standards in 2025, setting clear dates to end the sale of new 100% fossil fuel boilers, reducing electricity prices and improving installer training and standards across the entire heating industry.  We can get there, but there must be political will and cross-party consensus to provide policy certainty for installers, manufacturers, and homeowners.

Whilst there are challenges to navigate, the heat pump industry holds immense potential for driving the net zero transition. By addressing obstacles, leveraging research findings, and prioritising the electrification of heat, we can create a sustainable future while catching up to and perhaps even surpassing our European counterparts. As an association, our objective is to promote the widespread adoption of high-quality heat pump systems. We are supporting the industry by developing comprehensive guidance, supporting training programmes, providing accurate, independent consumer information about heat pumps, and actively collaborating with the Government and stakeholders to advocate for policy changes that unlock the demand needed to meet our decarbonisation targets.

With the right support from the government, collaboration among industry stakeholders, and engaged consumers, we can unlock the full potential of heat pumps and collectively contribute to driving the industry forward.