Opinion

The essential role of heating installers on the road to net zero

According to Max Halliwell, Vice Chair of the Heat Pump Association, training and support of installers is crucial to government ambitions of rapid growth in heat pump sales. The race to net zero is on, and installers must be encouraged to get on board.

Max Halliwell of the Heat Pump Association

If the UK Government is to meet its legally binding net zero emissions target by 2050, installation supply chains for low carbon heating are going to have to be much stronger than they are today.

Progressing the housing stock, which consists of some of the oldest and thermally leakiest homes in Europe, to net zero carbon emissions is a significant challenge. Homes currently account for around a third of current UK carbon emissions and the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has stressed the importance of decarbonisation policies to change this. However, despite the scale of the challenge before us, this could represent a huge opportunity if we take a ‘glass half full’ approach.

The technologies needed to decarbonise the building stock are already well established. Heat pumps have been highlighted by the CCC as an integral low carbon technology in the race to net zero and they are expected to be the primary heating system in new build homes from 2025. The Prime Minister’s recent Ten Point Plan also set a new target to deploy 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028, which would be a huge step up in sales in comparison to the 35,000 sold in 2019. The limiting factor now is the current skills gap.

Heating installers are at the very heart of the low carbon transition. Even with all the will in the world to reduce carbon emissions from the Government and consumers, good intentions will remain as merely that without a strong installer base to deliver the solutions net zero demands.

The Heat Pump Association (HPA), which represents 95% of the heat pump manufacturing market share, has therefore been collaborating with key actors across the industry to support installers and simplify the process to becoming a certified and trusted heat pump installer. Our recent report, ‘Building the installer base for net zero heating’ proposes a revised installer route that would be made feasible through a two-day, technology-neutral Low Temperature training course. The streamlined training program would cover the essential skills needed for energy efficient heating and would make certain that installers are able to install systems to perform efficiently, regardless of the heating technology installed. This has been developed by key industry players, led by CIPHE, and could act as a prerequisite for all heat source technology, including heat pumps.

Following on from the initial Low Temperature Course, installers should then be able to take up technology-specific training that leads to accreditation. This forms part of our ambitions to reduce the bureaucracy attached to the current route to becoming an accredited heat pump installer which can at times be a barrier to new entrants. The suggested route begins with a two-day Heat Pump Foundation course covering all the basics on heat pump installations before a one-day course focusing on the specific types of heat pumps: ground, air, and water sourced.

It is essential that this simplified training pathway is supported by Government action that ensures installers adapt to the changing heating industry. This will be a huge help to new installers joining the low carbon market as there will be one defined, clear and easy path to becoming a low carbon, certified installer. There are currently 130,000 heating installers in the UK who already understand the fundamentals of heating systems and simply need a clear simple route to upskill for the future.

High demand for heat pumps has already been well demonstrated through the Green Homes Grant scheme, which has generated phenomenal interest from homeowners; focus must now go to maintaining this momentum and ensuring that businesses and installers have the time and support they need to develop the necessary skills. This is essential not only to the success of the Green Homes Grant following its initial administration delays, but also for future schemes including the Clean Heat Grant, which reopened for further consultation this February.

To motivate installers and instil confidence in consumers, the HPA has proposed the introduction of a ‘Low Carbon Skills’ card. This could be used to accumulate all of the training installers undertake and demonstrate their capabilities to consumers, providing households with peace of mind that they are trained and accredited to install low carbon heating solutions. Such confidence, alongside expert advice from installers, would also stimulate more demand for heat pumps over time.

I am confident that we have the capacity to create an installer base fit for the net zero future. On paper we have the ideas ready to go. The question now is whether the Government will support us and the industry to put them into practice, ensuring that the road to a low emissions housing stock is straightforward and ambitious.

Written by Max Halliwell, Vice Chair of the Heat Pump Association and originally published on the Heat Pump Association website, 18th of March 2021.