The inevitable growth of the heat pump industry

Written by Phil Hurley, Chair of the Heat Pump Association

The role of heat pumps in the low carbon heating transition is no longer up for debate. Following consistent recommendations from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) for the mass rollout of heat pumps in both new and existing homes, the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution last year set a target to deploy 600,000 per year by 2028. This signals a huge step forward in the right direction considering that 35,000 heat pumps were sold in 2019; action must now be directed towards ensuring that heat pump supply chains are prepared for the scale up in demand required not only by 2028, but beyond. 19 million heat pumps will need to be installed to align with the legislated net zero target by 2050, which necessitates the deployment of over 1 million per year by the mid-2030s according to the CCC. This challenge is significant, but it is achievable with the right interventions from both industry and government.

The Heat Pump Association (HPA)’s own roadmap for heat pumps as the UK heads towards net zero sets out the number of annual installations required between now and 2035 in order to reach the Government’s targets. Figure 1 illustrates an upwards trajectory; around 72,000 heat pumps need to be installed this year to meet the recommended targets, predominantly in new builds.  However, a small amount will also be installed to help retrofit homes, particularly off the gas grid.

Our roadmap is complementary to our recent prediction that heat pump sales will surge this year. In a February press release, we revealed the results of a survey undertaken by our membership base, which accounts for 95% of existing manufacturers. The data collected revealed that manufactures have placed orders with their supply chains to deliver a total of 67,000 units in 2021. This equates to nearly double the number of heat pumps on shelves and in warehouses ready for installers to meet the growing consumer demand.

Figure 1:HPA Roadmap Deployment Trajectory for Alignment with Net Zero by 2050 – Heat Pump Installations per Year

Clearly, this industry is a fertile one, and will continue strengthening as the UK implements more policies related to environmentally friendly technologies. Heat pumps are not, by now, an unfamiliar technology to the Government or the wider heating industry; neither should they be seen as a particularly niche installation which can only be delivered by a handful of experts. Indeed, there are 130,000 heating engineers in the UK who are capable of upskilling so that they could install heat pumps.

The HPA has explored such in our report, ‘Building the installer base for net zero’. Within the report, we have developed a new training route for heat pump installers, which places emphasis on simplifying the process of upskilling and updating the content compared to that which is currently taught. This revised installer route would be made feasible through a two-day, technology-neutral Low Carbon training course. The updated training program would cover the essential skills needed for energy efficient heating and would make certain that installers are able to install systems to perform efficiently, regardless of the heating technology installed. This has been developed by key industry players, led by CIPHE, and could act as a prerequisite for all heat source technology, including heat pumps.

Following on from the initial Low Carbon Course, installers should then be able to take up technology-specific training that leads to qualification and competence. This forms part of our ambitions to reduce the bureaucracy attached to the current route to becoming an accredited heat pump installer which can at times be a barrier to new entrants. Industry has a key role to play in reshaping this route, but Government support is also crucial. Figure 2 indicates the considerable growth in installer numbers needed year-on-year up to the mid-2030 to align with the UK’s net zero emissions target.

Figure 2: HPA Roadmap Potential Total Number of Installers Needed for Alignment with Net Zero by 2050

The Government must provide installers with a reason to change. If they are not shown the promising future of heat pumps or stable and steady policy to encourage the transition to low carbon heating, installers will not retrain. Policies such as the Green Homes Grant in particular have already demonstrated the high demand for heat pumps once the upfront cost barrier is removed, and we can expect much of the same from the upcoming Clean Heat Grant from 2022. To ensure that installers are ready and able to meet this demand from consumers, it is vital that the Government supports the simplified training route to heat pump accreditation outlined above.

As the main contact with homeowners, we recognize how crucial it is that installers are properly supported in their journey into the low carbon space by both industry and Government. They are also crucial in stimulating demand as time goes on, as they must be able to sell the technology confidently to homeowners who trust their opinions. The industry is now in a time of ripe opportunity. Customers care more than ever about climate change whilst simultaneously being unaware of the impact of heating, with 40% of UK emissions originating from such. Now seems like the time for heat engineers to make the move to the heat pump market with the growth levels needed and expected in our bid to reach net zero.

[Originally published in the April issue of Heating and Ventilation Review – HVR April 2021 :: 26 (yudu.com) ]