Bumps in the Road: The journey to Decarbonising heat in UK homes.

NAPIT’s Chief Operating Officer, David Cowburn, responds to the current energy crisis and the BEIS Select Committee report on the Decarbonisation of Heat in UK Homes.

 The direction of travel set out by the Government is clear, and there were always going to be challenges to face when committing to overhauling the way all homes are heated. The latest reports from the BEIS Select Committee on the Decarbonisation of Heat in UK Homes and new data from the Social Market Foundation outline the bumps in the road that need to be flattened to deliver the ambitious targets set by the Government.

A recent BEIS select committee report emphasised the urgent need for further policy change to successfully decarbonise heat in UK homes, following the proposals outlined in the Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy and Net Zero Strategy. Combine this report with the recent energy ‘crisis’, the impact of growing political pressure from the public and wider industry regarding the rising cost of heating UK homes, and the current lack of consumer demand for seemingly expensive low-carbon heat pumps and it is clear to see that the current Government need to make a drastic change to meet the long-term goal of decarbonising heat in homes.

According to data from the Social Market Foundation, there are currently 147,800 plumbing, heating, and ventilation engineers in the UK, with 130,000 of these being Gas Safe registered. These statistics alone demonstrate the immense task of reskilling the workforce to install heat pumps. Furthermore, the report noted that while surveyed installers are generally supportive of phasing out fossil-fuel heating, they are wary of spending time reskilling and training because consumer demand for heat pump installations is currently low.

What is often neglected is that many properties will need their electricity supply arrangements upgrading in order to accommodate heat pump technology, and all properties will need a suitably qualified contractor to engage with the electricity Distribution Network Operator (DNO) to obtain appropriate permissions and register the installation. Heap pump installers will need either to directly employ resource for this or use registered electrical contractors, in an area already anticipating a sharp increase in demand for their services due to the expansion of the UK’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Consumer demand is necessary to drive demand for heat pumps and to stimulate installers to retrain to meet the Government’s target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. We responded to the result Government consultation concerning the Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which is set to replace the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive in April and will provide grants worth between £5,000 – £6,000 to homeowners for the installation of a heat pump or biomass boiler.

However, with the average price of an air source heat pump estimated to be £6,000-£8,000 and up to £18,000 for a ground source heat pump, the Government’s current funding is unlikely to increase consumer demand sufficiently to incentivise installers to retrain or meet the installation targets necessary. For instance, the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is only set to support the installation of around 30,000 low carbon heating technologies each year, for 3 years. In our response to the consultation, we urged the Government to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible for installers to submit claims, as the scheme will be installer led. We need installers to feel as comfortable and confident as possible in accessing grants and working with customers. We will continue to represent our members through such consultation responses and will continue to provide vital information and updates to our installers as the policy progresses.

Similarly, even with the assistance of a grant, low-income homeowners may struggle to install a heat pump at all. Charity bosses and poverty campaigners such as AgeUK and Save the Children have called for urgent support to support the installation of heat pumps for people on lower incomes. Furthermore, the current method for calculating the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of properties is based on energy consumption. There are fears that this may lead to the energy performance of a property receiving a lower rating following the installation of a low carbon technology, which could de-value homes. This is especially pertinent given the recent Government consultations on ‘Improving home energy performance through lenders’ and ‘Improving the energy performance of privately rented homes’ both of which have restrictions imposed based on EPC ratings. NAPIT understands the Government is considering this challenge and ways to prevent EPCs from being a barrier to heat pump installations.  However, we recognise that more can be done to assist low-income households, such as more substantial long-term grants and energy assistance.

As an accredited Microgeneration Certification Scheme provider, we are preparing to deliver low-carbon heat training across our 3 NAPIT Training centres and we continue to serve on numerous government and industry committees to support the ambition in this important area. We are supportive of the Select Committee’s recommendations for the Government to introduce a low-carbon heating training programme, a national consumer awareness campaign and a heat technology road map by September 2022 and call on the Government to act now to give confidence and certainty to the sector. Although the Government’s detailed long-term strategies provide a much needed and welcome overview, they do not provide enough detail or milestones to monitor progress effectively.

Whilst the future remains uncertain, it is clear the Government is invested and is investing in decarbonising homes with heat pumps at the forefront of their approach. Whilst there is still a way to go, we will continue to support the industry through our representation on industry committees and our training and certification and play our part in helping the Government meet its targets.

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