Progress on the road to low carbon

In November 2019 the Heat Pump Association launched its vision report on the role heat pumps can play in a low carbon future. Here, HPA chairman Graham Wright goes into detail on why installers will play a crucial part in affecting a wide-scale move towards low carbon heating systems.

According to a recent study, almost every climate model from the past 50 years has accurately predicted the global temperature changes we have experienced so far. Not only does this highlight society’s long held apathy towards one of humanity’s greatest challenges, it also suggests that projections of future changes are likely to be fairly reliable as well. A glance at the latest climate model projections indicates that even if all countries honour their climate policy commitments and pledges, we are still facing global temperature rises around 3ºC above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100, a catastrophic scenario according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

The UK has demonstrated a commitment to tackling the issue by becoming the first major economy to target net zero emissions by 2050, an ambitious but necessary step that must succeed if we are to inspire others to follow suit. 

Breaking habits

A critical part of the plan to deliver a low carbon society and break our dependency on fossil fuels will be the decarbonisation of heating, and this is where heat pumps will undoubtedly play a major role. Long established as an effective and reliable alternative to traditional fossil fuel-based heating systems, heat pumps offer substantial carbon emission reductions and can recover heat that would otherwise be wasted. Despite the notable benefits, the number of heat pumps being deployed in the UK heating market is currently too low to make the necessary impact and trigger the much-needed sea change in consumer habits. 

In the HPA’s recently launched vision report, ‘Delivering Net Zero: a roadmap for the role of heat pumps’, we stated that the industry’s efforts to establish wide-scale deployment of heat pumps in the UK would be delivered through three key pillars: 

putting the consumer at the heart of change

upskilling the installer base to create a cohort of highly skilled low-carbon heat installers

working with government to ensure a supportive policy mix

Crucial role

We have placed an emphasis on the role of installers as they will play a crucial role in increasing awareness among their customer base, and there needs to be a concerted effort to introduce thousands more fully trained and knowledgeable installers in order to push take-up to the next level, beyond off-grid properties and new builds and into the mainstream. 

This clearly won’t happen overnight, but additional training and development programmes need to be put in place without delay if the industry is to put itself in a position to deal with a significant increase in demand. The HPA is leading the way in its efforts to ensure schemes are available.

Upskill urgency

A high proportion of current heating installers are likely to need to upskill to be able to install low carbon heating systems. Heat pump installations require additional considerations on top of those typically carried out for traditional heating systems, such as gas boilers. There is, for example, a need to size heat pumps more carefully according to the heat demand of a building. Heat emitters often need to be upgraded to work with lower flow temperatures, and hydraulic balancing carried out to ensure that the distribution of water in heating systems is optimised. 

Though there will be new entrants to the industry, the expectation is that the majority of installers will need to come from the current boiler installer base. As more traditional methods of heating are phased out, these installers will find a need to retrain. While these workers already have many of the skills needed to install such systems, there will be a need to upskill to ensure that the installation of heat pump technologies is carried out to a high standard.

Training pathways

In addition to current installers, there is also a responsibility to ensure that new entrants to the installer base are adequately trained and possess the skills that they will need in the long term. The HPA supports apprenticeships to encourage the younger generation of installers to develop their skill base and ensure that the quality of heat pump installations is high, the knowledge of the benefits that the technology can bring is commonplace, and there are sufficient installer numbers to scale up deployment to the levels required to meet net zero by 2050. 

While the industry as a whole is confident that suitable training pathways can be put in place through the development of qualification schemes, there is another crucial element that can’t be overlooked:  a firm com-mitment on low carbon heating from the government. This is something that will give potential installers the confidence to invest their time and effort into training. 

If we are to significantly reduce heating emissions and make the switch to a decarbonised society, government and industry must come together to offer incentives for change, grow the installer base and deliver a strong message to consumers and industry professionals. This will make it clear that efficient solutions such as heat pumps are the key to a low carbon future.


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