Special Report

The business of heat pumps

In his first regular column for Renewable Energy Installer, Griff Thomas from GTEC turns his attention to Air Source Heat Pumps. How big a role will they play in the future of domestic heat and how can heating installers get involved? Griff explains…

Griff Thomas from GTEC

The need to lower UK carbon emissions is immediate if we have any chance of meeting our net zero 2050 target.  Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP) are a well-established technology that offer significant carbon savings when compared to gas or oil central heating. ASHP’s are far more efficient than other electric heating systems, producing as much as four times more heat than the electricity they use. 

Contrary to popular belief, ASHPs can work well in most properties alongside energy efficiency improvements and low-temperature heating systems, such as underfloor heating – if designed properly, ASHP’s can also be used with radiators.  The technology is ‘ready-to-go’ and will be central to our efforts to decarbonise domestic heat over the next 30 years, offering new business opportunities to heating installers.

New build or retrofit?

The initial focus and low hanging fruit for ASHP installation is in new builds, where the technology can provide ‘zero-carbon ready’ heating to comply with the Future Homes Standard from 2025. 

ASHPs are also a great option for retrofitting in existing properties.  Of course, there are considerations for homeowners and installers to ensure an efficient system, for example, increasing the size of radiators or moving to underfloor heating. These improvements will significantly improve the efficiency of ASHPs in older-style properties.

Energy efficiency matters!

It’s not just the practicalities of installation. Engineers also need to be well versed on the assessing the properties energy efficiency, the design and commissioning of a heat pump system considering the type of property, heating systems and levels of insulation will play a key role in how well it performs.  You’ll need to be able to work out the Seasonal Co-Efficient of Performance (SCOP) to select the best heat pump for the job.

Opportunities to look out for…

New build developments in your area: if there are new build developments planned for your area, they could provide a good opportunity for small heat pump businesses looking for growth over the next five years.  Check planning applications on your local authority’s website and keep an eye on local news.

Consumer initiatives: most air source heat pumps qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the domestic arm of which is open to new applications until March 2022 and should pay back the installation costs within seven years. 

From April 2022, the Clean Heat Grant is due to launch which could pay homeowners up to £7,000 towards the cost of a renewable heating system, with the aim of boosting take up of low-carbon technologies.  This could potentially incentivise many more homeowners to install a heat pump in their home, offering business opportunities for heating engineers with the right qualifications. 

Government-funded training schemes: There is a serious lack of heat pump installers and considering the speed in which we need to transition to low carbon heating, the government are under pressure to invest significant funds in building the installer base. 

Last year, my company, GTEC, in partnership with MCS, won funding to run the Renewable Heat Incentive Training and Support Scheme (RHITSS), which delivered heavily discounted heat pump training and accreditation to more than 600 installers (and counting), worth around £1,300 per candidate.  Funding like this offers a great opportunity for experienced heating engineers looking to branch out into low-carbon heating and I hope to see more funding made available for similar schemes in the future. 

Training courses: the only heat pump training courses currently available are designed for experienced heating and plumbing engineers.  They don’t take as long as you might expect, as they build on existing knowledge and skills.  Depending on which trade you’re starting from, you may also need specific qualifications, for example, Energy Efficiency Part L and/or WRAS Water Regulations (1999) on top of your gas or plumbing qualifications.

Air Source Heat Pumps are fast becoming a common sight in UK homes, the simplest and most cost-comparable alternative to mains gas. For most heating engineers, upskilling into this technology is a sensible move, which will only increase in demand over the coming years.

GTEC deliver heat pump and other renewables training for its centres in Hawes, North Yorkshire. For more information, visit www.gtec.co.uk.