13 October 2023
Griff Thomas, MD for GTEC training, looks at the current heat pump market, its growth, potential stumbling blocks, and the tech in development to smooth the transition to a low carbon future.
It’s been a bumper year for heat pumps and renewables in general with more households than ever before opting to go green. MCS data shows that in the first six months of 2023, more than 120,000 solar panels, heat pumps and other renewable technologies were installed in UK homes – the highest number ever by this point in the year.
On average, more than 3,000 heat pumps have been installed monthly, with the market doubling since 2021. There is still much to be done and compared with the rest of Europe we are lagging behind when it comes to heat pump installation. For example; 55,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK in 2022, compared with 620,000 in France.
The pace must pick up and not just for environmental reasons. Energy security is a very real concern and due to declining North Sea gas production, the UK will need to import 60% more of its gas by 2035 if the current demand does not change.
This should all be music to the ears of heating installers who are best placed to upskill into heat pumps. The need is there but at the moment, heat pump installers are not. Bad news stories fuelled by poor installs, a reticence to change and a distrust in the government’s schemes, which, let’s face it, have often fallen flat, means that many who can train in heat pumps, have yet to take the plunge. Demand is high across GTEC’s nationwide centres, but it could and should be higher.
There are undoubtedly some stumbling blocks; many of which are thankfully being addressed with the latest technology.
For installers, one of the biggest heat pump turn-o s is the increased complexity compared with a gas boiler, particularly at the specification and system design stage where accurate room by room heat loss calculations are essential. There is no denying that a higher level of mathematical and engineering aptitude is required; overspecifying a heat pump, something that is commonplace with gas boilers, will leave an end user with expensive fuel bills. Under specifying will lead to a cold home. Radiators must be the right size, usually larger than with a gas boiler and it’s crucial that the heat pump is commissioned correctly.
For consumers (and some installers) after cost, it’s usually the aforementioned bad press that can be o -putting. It’s rare you hear about happy customers! The reality is that there are some very shoddy installs, as is true of all heating, but, unlike a gas boiler, the margins of error are much smaller, so it’s likely an end user will notice a poor install more keenly.
The government’s Heat Pump Ready Programme has been set-up to support the companies tasked with smooth out these bumps. Stream 2 in particular focusses on the technologies designed to overcome the challenges to heat pump deployment.
Projects in Stream 2 are using the latest digital tools, such as AI and 3D modelling, with a focus on improving the experience for every part of the heat pump supply chain – from specifiers through to end users. Funding has been made available across five tool and technology areas:
- Reducing lifetime cost and increasing performance of domestic heat pumps
- Minimising home disruption whilst providing high-quality installation
- Financial models to support heat pump deployment
- Improving the customer journey
- Smart and flexible home energy systems
The use of 3D modelling and the Internet of Things (IoT) is well established in other sectors. We all use apps for everything, and in the future, heat pump installers will be able to do the same.
With room surveying and heat loss calculations so crucial to successful heat pump installation, why not let the latest tech take over and remove the margin of human error? A number of projects under the HPR scheme are looking at part of this process, with the heatly app in particular providing full specification and design support, streamlining, speeding up and ensuring accuracy in this essential part of the heat pump puzzle.
It’s a chicken and egg scenario and without consumer confidence the heat pump roll out will stall. Supporting installers to deliver better heat pump schemes is the most important factor, combined with better information and management of expectations. Like many industries, such as architecture and interior design, 3D modelling can play a role in the heat pump process, showing consumers how the heat pump and associated cylinder will fi t into a property in the virtual world.
Where consumers are remodelling, these types of tools can also help with other parts of the puzzle - from the aesthetic look of a radiator to the effect of more insulation on heating bills - helping them to make informed decisions about complimentary upgrades.
Support choosing installers, heat pump types, cost and energy savings are all covered by projects in HPR stream 2, paving the way for a more positive and satisfied customer-base.
The bigger picture
Digital technology has revolutionised all of our lives and it’s time heating installers and their customers reaped the benefits of a joined-up world. Knowledge is power and the more we know about heat pump systems and the customer experience, the better they will work going forward. What these digital solutions also do is measure data that will allow every part of the supply chain to refine its offering.
Many consumers are already adjusting their behaviour to reduce fuel bills and improve the performance of their building services. The quick adoption of smart meters and smart homes shows that people can change and change quickly. It wasn’t that long ago that central heating wasn’t a widespread luxury.
Despite a bumpy start, the heat pump roll out’s pace should gather greater momentum, with the tools of the 21st century behind it and an engaged and trained installer base to smooth out the bumps in the road. Heating installers should feel confident to upskill, safe in the knowledge that some of the biggest challenges are being taken care of behind the scenes.