Modern Heat Pump History & Future Heating Prospects in the UK


12 October 2023

By Bruce Boucher M Inst R

The beginnings of the (Heat Pump) market in the UK started around the 1960’s such names as Stewart King Industries (IMI), Prestair Air conditioners, J. Samuel White (JSW) and Tempair to name a few manufactures, serving the UK and exporting abroad.

The growth of the (Heat Pump) in the UK developed so quickly, suitable product was di  cult to source. What is happening today to link all this together some sixty + years later and, the two anomalous words we are all now so familiar with the “Heat Pump”.

Retailers on the High Street, the swinging 60’s, shop lighting lamps of 500 watts each, dozens of them, shining onto the display shelves - highlighting shoes, clothing, jewellery anything and everything on sale. Shoppers fainting in the heat, enter “comfort cooling (HP)”, to negate the sensible heat gain just from the lighting alone!


The lightbulb moment!

The London Electricity Board placed an advertisement in the “Sunday Times” in the early 1970’s targeting the owners of major High St stores. “Simply we can cool, heat and fi lter the air in your shops with the magic of comfort cooling and heating, using electric Heat Pumps”.

The “Heat Pump” created a whole new air conditioning industry in the UK. Why do I know this? I was there on Oxford St in London, at night, installing the kit. Streets closed so the cranes could lift the units onto the roofs!

Carrier, Trane, Lennox and York all jumping on the growth with so many more names around today. In the 1960’s our homes scarcely had any wet central heating at all, so you could suggest that the Heat Pump was around well before the central heating market really started to grow at all in the UK.

Neither the heating or HP industry would take any notice of each other, why should they, chalk and cheese. We had a heating and to some extent a ventilation market plus an air conditioning market. In reality today the 2 industries still remain poles apart.


Climate change

Cheap fossil fuel for decades, courtesy of North Sea Oil! Very few, if anyone, gave any thought to “climate Change” anywhere in the World. Use it, abuse it, waste it - why not, it’s ours to waste and, we can export it. Sadly, or perhaps naively and to the majority of our population, if we don’t do something about Climate Change, the world’s population will regret sooner than later all manner of adverse environmental horrors, over time our climates around the globe will become so bad all and everything will suffer.

What’s this got to do with Heat Pumps (HP)? Simply put, why use two fuels when one fuel can deliver both heating and cooling from one clean energy source.


Clever renewables

So, if we are able to produce enough electricity from renewables such as, air, solar, use our rivers and subterranean energy (boreholes & mines) the Heat Pump may well be a real long-term alternative to continue to provide clean heat & coolth to where we live, work and play.

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The Heat Pump (HP) is quite a clever bit of technology and misunderstood by the heating industry. The truth, however, is Heat Pump technology has been established for more than 150 years. In 1945 John Summer built a full-scale water source heat pump in Norwich.

Two types of HP appear to be front runners on the domestic scene, Air to Water connected to our new and existing wet heating systems, and what we call “DX splits”, installed by an established AC Industry.


Media coverage

Sadly, newspapers have given the HP a rough ride, added to this a plethora of mixed messaging coming from other facets of social media. The big question is do Heat Pumps really work, and can they deliver what is claimed of them?

Well, yes, but with a big caveat, they need to be designed, installed and commissioned correctly. If they are not, they will still work but not very well, and with electricity being so expensive not a good outcome. You can also apply in principle the same for fossil fuel appliances, they all need to be applied correctly.

“Temperature” appears to be another huge issue and the heating industry struggles with “Temperature” the vast majority of home heating systems operate at far too high LWT’s. Although condensing Boilers have been around for decades very few condense properly to get best output, as the technology has not been taught to the installers as to how it should be designed, installed, commissioned and operated.


Importance of sizing

Boiler sizing is an enormous problem and remains so as they are mostly oversized. Sometimes 3-5 times bigger than the actual heat loss from the average home. Why is this? Again, if you have never carried out a heat loss on a building, how do you know how much energy the home or any other building requires.


Knowledge is key to growth

When a prospective customer is thinking of having a HP and discovers it is much less in output than the boiler coming out, they will doubt it could possibly work. If the installer can’t explain all of this competently, the chance is the homeowner will get cold feet (excuse the pun) and install a further oversized boiler.

The UK heating industry has much to ponder on for any future sustainable heating solution. Simply put; if you haven’t bothered to find out how to deliver efficient heating installations including; fossil fuel or a Heat Pump, we will continue to install oversized boilers and poorly performing Heat Pumps.

The industry is struggling to both train and improve an existing ageing workforce and a new generation of potential high earners into the future. If we don’t deliver on this issue sooner than later, what is happening now will continue into the future. Simply the future of Heat Pump success is dependent on developing the skills, which, so far, appear to be very thin on the ground.