Sustainability will be measured in heat pumps

Heat pumps are now the new metric of success for sustainability, argues Jim McClelland.

Heat pumps are everywhere — not in terms of actual installations, sadly; but with respect to mentions in the media and buzzwords bandied about in public discourse. They have become a kind of shorthand for the green ambitions of the current Government.

As such, the rate of heat pump installations is now a key metric of the energy transition. In the residential market, they have become the measure of success (or failure), by which the sustainability of the building services sector and performance of installers will be judged.

So, how are we doing?

Tough targets and high ambition

Well, it is now more than 2 years (and as many Prime Ministers) since the UK Government first outlined its 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, billed as an ambitious programme to create up to 250,000 highly-skilled jobs, en route to Net Zero by 2050.

Point 7 in the Plan set a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028. In truth, that now infamous number has become something of a stick with which to beat installers.

The heat pump graph is going up, just not far and fast enough.

The latest data from the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) shows that, in total, some 8,790 heat pumps were deployed in the first three months of this year, making Q1 2023 the second highest quarter for the technology in the history of the scheme.

Millions more in business investment

More good news stories have been coming out of the sector in the second quarter, too, with the announcement of an investment of £70M in the Kensa Group being made by the generation arm of Octopus Energy, working in conjunction with Legal and General Capital.

As part of the deal, finance will be provided to offer housebuilders, housing associations, and non-domestic customers access to the Kensa Networked Heat Pumps solution at a lower cost. This will help the manufacturer of ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) expand rapidly towards a target of 50,000 installations by 2030, creating over 7,000 green jobs.

Recent weeks have also seen examples of in-person support from politicians, with Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for the Department of Energy Security & Net Zero, putting in an appearance at a heat pump training centre, in Welwyn Garden City. Housed at the UK HQ of Panasonic Heating & Cooling, the facility is located in his own constituency.

However, with 2028 only five years away, figures still fall well short of Government goals.

In fact, the results of a recent survey of 1300 installers undertaken by Vaillant provide a swift realty check, revealing that a whopping 82% of them currently do not do heat pumps.

Under pressure in mainstream media

The market is definitely beginning to feel the heat — and not in a good way.

In a fresh bid to reassure homeowners, de-risk uptake and boost installation numbers, British Gas has introduced its Warm Home Promise, guaranteeing customers their money back if a heat pump does not warm their home as effectively as a traditional gas boiler.

In part, the hand of the heat-pump marketing departments has been forced into this kind of rearguard action by the hostile conspiracy-theory rhetoric and aggressive anti-eco campaigns being waged increasingly by certain elements of the mainstream media.

The only consolation for the green lobby in all of this is that the change of tack means the focus of their offensive has switched away from onshore wind farms, at least temporally.

So, are you Heat Pump Ready?

In a welcome boost for installers, though, the Government’s Heat Pump Ready programme has now been confirmed as an official event partner of the InstallerSHOW, which will be taking place next month, from 27-29 June at the NEC, in Birmingham.

Heat Pump Ready is a major innovation programme funded through the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP) delivered by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ). It has been specifically designed to support the development of novel solutions to transform the market for heat pumps here in the UK.

The event partnership between the InstallerSHOW and DESNZ means that many of the latest heat pump innovations and applications will in the spotlight at the exhibition, with the first projects now confirmed for the special feature in Heat Pump Ready area.

The dedicated Heat Pump Ready area will provide delegates with the opportunity to interact with the developers of the innovations, which include a range of new tools, technologies and business models designed to reduce heat pump costs, optimise performance, improve the customer journey and minimise household disruption.

In anticipation, elemental will also be broadcasting a live one-hour panel webinar this week, on The Future of Heat Pumps, happening at 1pm on May 25th and hosted online by the BBC’s energy and environment analyst Roger Harrabin, with speakers from DESNZ, Carbon Trust and some of the Heat Pump Ready projects.

Then, as part of the dedicated content for delegates at the InstallerSHOW itself in June, elemental will be running a feature session in the Housing Hub theatre.

Entitled Who is going to buy a heat pump? and hosted by sustainability journalist Rachel England, this panel debate will look at overcoming barriers to heat pump roll-out in housing, for both homeowners and social landlords. Experts from Energy UK, Leeds Beckett University and tech innovator pump:chic will discuss how to boost the rate of installations in the UK and what the challenges will be to meet the government targets.

So, with sustainability set to be measured in heat pumps, the question is: Are you ready?