John Morris of Grant UK dispels some of the common myths around heat pumps, which are currently being hailed as the key means of heating homes to comply with the Future Homes Standard.
The number of air source heat pumps being installed is increasing year on year and, as we move towards achieving net zero in 2050, these figures are only going to grow. The Government has announced its ambitions, manufacturers are gearing up to meet demand, and householders are more aware than ever of the need to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
The recent Future Homes Standard industry consultation reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to heat pumps, targeting a 31% reduction in carbon emissions for all new homes to be achieved through improved building fabric and low carbon technologies.
It was also confirmed that, from 2025, new homes were not to be reliant on fossil fuels for heating (such as natural gas). The Government also said that low carbon heating would be vital to specification for the Future Homes Standard, and that heat pumps would be the primary heating source used.
More and more installers are now completing heat pump training in the light of this, and adding the renewable technology to their business offering, thereby broadening their customer base. Similarly, more housebuilders and developers are turning to heat pumps to provide a sustainable heating solution.
Air source heat pump technology has evolved significantly over recent years, and while an old heat pump of yesteryear may have had a poor reputation, today, heat pumps represent a reliable, low carbon heating solution which will play a major part in the future of the heating industry.
Recent Government research has investigated the impact of the transition away from high carbon fossil fuel heating systems on 4,000 heating installers who work in areas of England and Wales that are not connected to the gas grid. It makes for interesting reading, and highlights the need for more education and training in the months and years ahead.
One third of the installers surveyed said they currently install heat pumps, which is a great start and indicates that demand for the technology is rising. From the installers interviewed, those who do not install heat pumps were (perhaps understandably) the most sceptical about low carbon technology. The perception from installers was that their customers would find them too expensive, and that consumers currently do not know enough about the benefits of heat pumps to request one, or agree to an offer to fit one from an installer.
The report found that installers who worked in areas with predominantly older housing stock perceived the lack of insulation as a limiting factor in a heat pump’s suitability. The report suggests a need for greater installer training in identifying options for energy efficiency improvements, and optimising homes for heat pumps. Some installers surveyed also believed that heat pumps would not work efficiently during the winter months, despite evidence that heat pumps are able to comfortably operate at or below zero degrees Celsius. Looking at this research, there are clearly some myths to dispel.
Myth 1: Demand is low
Homeowner interest in air source heat pumps is clearly growing, as consumers become increasingly aware of their impact on the environment and actively look at ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.
The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy is going to shape legislation that will move the market away from fossil fuels, driving homeowners’ transition from high carbon heating systems to more sustainable alternatives.
Understanding and education on low carbon heating technologies is more widespread as well, so overall, the awareness of heat pumps among the consumer market is increasing day by day, which in turn will result in increased demand.
Myth 2: they are only suitable for new builds
Air source heat pumps are an ideal solution for new builds because they can be installed during the early phases of a property’s build. Some heat pumps can be installed into existing homes, for example, being retrofitted to replace an older heating system. A retrofit installation may involve fitting additional roof or wall insulation or other measures to reduce heat loss. But provided the entire system has been properly designed, with correctly sized heat emitters and the most suitable heat pump output, an older home can comfortably ‘go green’ with an air source heat pump.
Myth 3: They do not work efficiently in winter
If an air source heat pump has been installed correctly with the appropriate control parameters in place and with the rest of the system correctly set up as well, the unit will operate efficiently all year round.
Heat pumps are designed to operate in low temperatures, and while their SCOPs will not be as efficient when compared to operation in warmer outdoor temperatures, they still operate with good levels of efficiency. A heat pump will clearly be working harder in the winter months compared to the spring and summer, but this should not be mistaken for inefficiency. Between November and February when a home’s heating and hot water demand is at its highest, a heat pump will use an estimated 63% of its annual energy usage, so electricity usage will increase. However, this usage will significantly drop during the remaining months of the year when the heat pump’s energy consumption is very low.
Myth 4: product training is not essential
It is incredibly important for installers who are not currently installing heat pumps to complete training on this technology before they start working with them.
Without suitable product training to give installers a solid understanding of how heat pumps work and what maximises their performance, there is a risk of installations being completed incorrectly, which can result in underperforming heat pumps and therefore unsatisfied end-users. Installing air source heat pumps is a different process to installing a conventional boiler – so it will not be a ‘like for like’ replacement installation and, as previously mentioned, thorough design preparation is needed.
John Morris is renewables business development manager for Grant UK