Low Carbon Landscapes: Bean Beanland discusses heat pump rollout
31st March 2023
As we examine the Low Carbon Landscapes across the UK and the evolution of domestic renewables, Bean Beanland, Director of Growth and External Affairs at the Heat Pump Federation, shares his views on UK heat pump deployment in recent years.
The Heat Pump Federation was formed as an organisation to push for government policy supporting the electrification of heat. We support all types of heat pump deployment, including heat networks. In addition to working with government, we provide advocacy for members on problems around electricity supply negotiations, or with subsidy and grant applications.
To support our lobbying activity, we invest a great deal of time in engaging community groups across the country so that we can speak to government with authority and a good understanding of what consumers want to see from our policymakers.
How has heat pump rollout performed over the last few years and how do we improve it?
Heat pump rollout in recent years has been disappointing as we still lack significant long-term policy interventions. Going forward, as Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP recommended, we need a plan to regulate gas boiler phasedown and make heat pumps a widespread technology across the UK. As the Net Zero Review concluded, we need to be providing clarity and ‘making it clear to people that heat pumps are the future’ in legislation.
The Independent Review of Net Zero needs to be taken seriously. Delivery of both the Future Homes Standard and the off-gas consultations is critical, as is the reform of the electricity price setting mechanism. A bold set of Ministers at the new Department of Energy Security and Net Zero who believe in climate change mitigation could deliver on all three, but a clear commitment is needed.
While we recognise the introduction of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) as a welcome further step to support heat pump rollout, it has been constrained. We have seen the stumbling blocks caused by the unprecedented rise in electricity prices, a lack of clarity and marketing from the government and the delays automating Ofgem processes. If the government continues to improve the scheme throughout its lifetime, the level of support for ground-source heat pumps should be increased to reflect the true uplift in capital cost and the greater benefit in terms of efficiency.
In a wider sense, the success of the BUS relies on an environment of supporting policy packages. Grants alone will not be enough to change how the country heats its homes.
2023 could be very different, but it will take genuine political leadership to cause a step change. If the leadership fails, then 2023 could be another wasted year on the road to net zero, and we cannot afford to have more wasted years.
What government support for the industry are the HPF pushing for?
The single biggest problem with rolling out low carbon heating is that it remains cheaper to burn fossil fuels. This is completely incompatible with the UK’s legal obligation to deliver net zero by 2050 and so it must change, and the sooner, the better.
The most important ask of the government is to reform how electricity is priced for both domestic and commercial consumers in the UK. Electricity is artificially expensive as it remains linked to high international gas prices, while fossil fuels are artificially cheap due to heavy subsidising from the government.
While electricity costs remain high, it is difficult for consumers to justify doing the right thing by choosing to decarbonise their heating systems. As an example, in Jersey, there is a 20-hour heat pump tariff of around 12.8p/kWh, compared to gas at around 18p/kWh. Not surprisingly, the demand for heat pumps on the island is enormous because they are cheaper to run than gas boilers.
Many of our secondary asks of the government are centred on Building Regulations and assessments, which are not currently fit-for-purpose and act as a barrier to the rollout of low carbon heating.
The Standard Assessment Procedure should be reformed to recognise the low carbon status of heat pumps and the value of their flexibility in home energy efficiency. A mandated maximum design flow temperature for all heat distribution would recognise the similarity of heat pumps and existing low flow temperature systems, such as condensing boilers, and help dispel the myth that they are less efficient.
We would also like to see planning regulation reformed, especially permitted development rights to allow homeowners to improve their homes without planning permission. Agreed industry standards, such as those developed by MCS, should be included in Building Regulations to ensure consumer protection across the board.
A final commitment we’d like to see from the government is the rapid introduction of the Future Homes Standard and a defined timeline for banning new fossil fuel boilers off the gas grid.
With these changes, the target of 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028 would be achievable. We’d be growing the market at a rate that would bring in the investment to meet the demands of both the workforce and supply chains.
What else is standing in our way?
Beyond policy, the two largest barriers to large-scale heat pump deployment are a lack of consumer confidence that they will deliver affordable, efficient heating, and an insufficient number of qualified, competent contractors with the necessary green skills.
The messaging to consumers about heat pumps is constantly disrupted by lobbyists in hydrogen and fossil fuel organisations. The other primary concern is the stories of non-compliant, inefficient and even dangerous installations. We cannot allow consumers to be let down with critical services of heating and hot water.
As heat pumps are sometimes falsely portrayed as a new or untested technology, you read more about faulty heat pump installations than you do about faulty fossil fuel boiler installations, which are just as common.
This is where MCS needs to continue work to robustly deal with contractors who are not complying with the standards and provide consumer protection and confidence above and beyond what is provided in the traditional fossil fuel industry. It is critical that consumers can see that their heating systems will be held to a high standard and there are genuine protections when something goes wrong.
We also need to work to grow the number of skilled people working for certified heat pump contractors even more. We need to be investing in skills by expanding training opportunities and developing career paths for a broader range of people.
We would like to see more local governments and authorities working to get the message into schools and colleges that a career in heating is no longer a life with fossil fuels – heat is now “Digital, not Dirty”. A career in heating is an environmentally friendly vocation that could appeal to a broader demographic of the next generation. We want green careers to appeal to more people and, specifically, to more girls and young women, as they are future-proof and vital.
What would you tell homeowners?
If I could tell UK consumers one thing about heat pumps, it would be this: you all already have heat pumps. You’ve relied upon heat pump technology to keep your milk fresh, and your peas frozen for decades, so this is not scary new technology.
Through no real fault of the installers, fossil fuel regulation has, to a great extent, failed consumers on efficiency for years, so now is the time to demand better and to reject mediocrity. The UK has been through these sorts of challenges before, and we’ve come through successfully, without it causing financial meltdown.
There was a time when central heating was deemed just for the rich, but now it’s almost impossible to find a house without it. Most of this was delivered as a retrofit and this should be the blueprint for decarbonisation through electrification.
If you would like to read more from Bean Beanland, visit the Heat Pump Federation website and follow them on LinkedIn. To keep up to date with other industry voices on Low Carbon Landscapes, subscribe to our mailing list and follow us on social media.