Housebuilders challenge on heat pumps still stands

28/09/2023

DESPITE the prime minister Rishi Sunak’s plans to water down net zero targets on gas boilers the goal to fit all new homes with heat pumps by 2025 still stands.

Industry experts worry there are insufficient qualified installers to scale up from fitting 60,000 heat pumps last year to an estimated 250,000 a year by 2025.

Currently, there are about 3,000 qualified installers but innovation foundation Nesta has calculated the country will need 27,000 by 2028 to hit current government targets.

The chief executive of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, which represents heat pump manufacturers, Mike Foster described the pool of labour as ‘limited’.

“The demographics of transitioning to net zero is incredibly challenging. There’s a disproportion of heating engineers aged over 50.”

“It will require fresh entrants to the labour force and a large number will have to be trained quickly and well so that high-quality installers go into properties and that people feel confidence.”

The National Federation of Builders, NFB, is concerned about the lack of installers highlighting that just a handful of companies accounted for the 60,000 pumps fitted last year.

NFB housing and policy head Rico Wojtulewicz said: “We don’t have enough installers and we only have a few years to get ready.”

Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, CIPHE, chief executive Kevin Wellman said there should be mandatory training for heat pump installation and a compulsory qualification.

“Heat pumps are a different type of technology from gas boilers running from lower water temperatures, so you need to be able to look at the fabric of a building, its pipework and radiator size. It’s not a case of a like-for-like conversion course.”

Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said development finance lenders were concerned that the added cost of heat pumps and a shortage of fitters would pose significant challenges to SME builders.

Another consideration for housebuilders is that heat pumps require an internal hot water cylinder in the same way as a conventional boiler.

PM hopes consumers will be tempted to adopt heat pumps

The prime minister is expected to ditch the 2026 ban on the installation of oil boilers affecting people living in rural areas in addition to scrapping the ban on installation of gas boilers.

He has advocated a ‘pragmatic approach’ to achieving net zero by 2050 and has indicated he wants industry and government to persuade consumers of the benefits of heat pumps.

Currently a major stumbling block is that buying and installing a heat pump costs in the region of £16,000 compared with just over £2,000 for buying and fitting a gas boiler.

Industry is expecting the government to shift current levies on electricity to gas providing an incentive to the consumer to switch to heat pumps.

Compared with other countries in Europe such as France the UK has a fraction of heat pumps but significantly more than the Netherlands which relies on North Sea gas.

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