The Future of Heat Pumps


01 April 2021

Kevin O’Leary, Samsung Business Manager, Heat Pumps looks at the various challenges the industry faces and what needs to be done to ensure a smooth roll out of such a large-scale operation.

The UK government has set a target of net zero emissions by 2050 – the first country in the world to do so – meaning it’s imperative that all emissions generated are no more than the emissions it removes from the atmosphere. With such an ambitious target in mind, the industry faces many challenges to meet this deadline.

Government Legislation

One of the first things to note is that shifting the market will require government intervention - when condensing boilers were introduced into the UK, legislation was needed to make it happen. One of the most important steps will be encouraging housebuilders to provide their customers with heat pumps from day one – and this looks set to occur from 2025 under the Future Homes Standard.

Developments in heat pumps, in terms of flow temperatures, make them a solution that works for both homes and commercial properties. Numerous buildings have been operating heat pump heating systems successfully and over several years. The technology is tried and tested – and offers immediate carbon savings.

Skilled workforce

Another challenge the industry faces is addressing the current skill shortages of installers qualified to fit these heat pumps. To put it into perspective, the current gas boiler market is approximately 1.7 million units per year 1 compared with just 30,000 heat pumps 2. By 2028, the government is calling for there to be 600,000heat pumps installed every year by 20283  

The market also needs to have the confidence to encourage investment and growth. If we are to deliver millions of heat pumps over the next few decades, then it’s essential to have more trained installers. They will not only ensure that each heat pump operates at optimum efficiency, but they can educate end-users about getting the most from their system. The UK Heat Pump Association (HPA) has called for a Skillscard for heat pump installers that is similar to the Gas Safe scheme to provide further assurance for consumers.

One way to address this challenge is to better utilise online training to reach more engineers in a shorter period of time. The world has moved into a new era – a ‘Next Normal’ – that has imposed many boundaries on all of us. Life has changed drastically, not just in the way we work, but also in the way we interact with others. We believe that technology is our bridge to a bigger world, and will continue to be so in our changed reality.

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Having a series of webinars available, split into a number of modules, is a cost effective and efficient way to upskill the 130,000 gas safe engineers registered in the UK. Firstly, we must instil the design principles for low temperature heating systems in terms of emitter and pipe sizing, beyond that, the hydraulics are very similar to traditional boiler systems the engineers are familiar with.

Modernising the electricity grid and smart controls

The issue of modernising the UK electricity grid, as we switch away from fossil fuels, is another challenge. The National Grid itself has pointed out that more investment in updated infrastructure is required as we use more electricity. The Energy Task Force, commissioned by BEIS, calls for better data sharing across the electricity grid  4 and estimates that a ‘smart and flexible’ system could save up to £40 billion by 2050

Smart controls in our homes and other buildings also offer the potential to help balance demand. For example, the Samsung ClimateHub can be managed remotely using Samsung’s SmartThings App, enabling users to turn the system on and off, control the functions and schedule its operation from anywhere at any time.

Systems are also designed to allow for connection to solar photovoltaics, which may well be an essential element of our electric future, as buildings become producers of electric energy as well as users.

Positive future

In spite of the various challenges, we face in decarbonising our heating and hot water in the UK, the outlook for the future seems positive with the heat pump market set to grow significantly. A recent report presented by the Climate Change Committee5 suggests, new-build homes are likely to dominate take-up of these technologies. However, supported by legislation such as the Future Homes Standard, and successors to the RHI scheme, retrofitting will take off from around 2026.

The switch away from fossil fuels for heating has never been so important – or so achievable – as it is today. We have the technology to make heating in our homes and other buildings more energy-efficient and affordable, while reducing our national carbon footprint. By planning and preparing for such a large-scale operation now, will make the overall process much more efficient, in order to successfully meet the deadline, set out by the UK government.