Friday, November 4, 2016

Heat pump targets not possible without radical changes

The government’s aim of seeing 200,000 heat pumps installed in the UK by 2020 will not be possible without a radical shift in the market as well as a revision of current government policy, a panel of industry experts told UK Construction Week (UKCW).

Currently around 16,000 heat pumps are installed in the UK every year, but a new report from the Committee for Climate Change has proposed that figure rises to almost 50,000 between now and the end of the decade; rising to one million a year thereafter.

Tim Rook, technical director of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA), said the industry would welcome the support for low carbon technologies, but said it was hard to envision how such a dramatic increase in installations could be achieved without greater financial levers.

He said these could be incentives for installers and end users or a fairer distribution of tax and levies on fuels. Currently power prices are carrying most of the tax burden; while gas continues to be relatively cheap.

Only members of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) are allowed to certify domestic heat pumps so end users can claim payments under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and the number of installers in the scheme has fallen to just 800 in recent months.

Gas boilers continue to dominate the UK domestic market with around 1.6 million installed every year by approximately 120,000 registered heating installers.

“This indicates a failure in the market,” said Mr Rook. “Currently, we just don’t have the supply chain to deliver this huge growth in heat pumps – equivalent to 166 going in everyday between now and 2020. The domestic heating market is notoriously conservative, so the heat pump revolution may have to be led by the commercial air conditioning sector.”

Phil Hurley, managing director of heat pump manufacturer NIBE called for a thorough revision of the MCS “because there are simply not enough installers to do the work”.

He said it needed to be less bureaucratic and to focus more on delivering installations and less on consumer protection. “Currently the scheme is 80% consumer protection and 20% on the technical requirements – that balance needs to be reversed because it is still losing members,” he said.

Mr Hurley added that the government had an opportunity to clear up its policy on renewables and low carbon heating in next year’s review of the Building Regulations. Currently, with the removal of subsidies and the scrapping of the Code for Sustainable Homes, there were few financial drivers to support market growth, he said.

However, the post-Brexit economic situation could unlock major developments in low carbon heating, according to Mr Rook.

“UK plc has a big challenge ahead of it to deliver better heating solutions and the government’s provision of £320m to support the development of more district heating schemes is another welcome development,” he told delegates. “Heat networks are a great enabling technology and once the pipes are in the ground we can use a variety of low carbon and renewable sources to provide the heat – particularly heat pumps.”

He added that there was great potential for low carbon heating in tandem with energy storage and demand response technologies to support the grid and encourage more district schemes.  However, as well as improving incentives for the supply chain, he said a radical re-think of operating temperatures for central heating and hot water was needed; explaining to UKCW visitors that lower temperatures would deliver significant energy savings.

“Domestic hot water is stored at 50degC in several European countries, including Germany and Sweden, but we insist on much higher temperatures here, which militates against heat pumps and other low temperature heat sources.”

There is a tendency for hot water systems to be specified at much higher temperatures in the UK in order to minimise the risk from legionella bacteria, but the speakers agreed that lower temperatures were supported by the current regulations and disinfection of the system was an equally effective and lower cost way of safeguarding end users.

Phil Jones, chairman of the CIBSE Energy Performance Group, said that installers were incentivised to sell boilers – not heat pumps. He added that British people also tended to favour boilers and hot radiators so were suspicious of the lower temperature heating provided by heat pumps.

“There is an element of ‘I love my boiler’ that would need to be overcome – and people like the comfort of a hot radiator and use them to dry washing. There is a big social education job to be done explaining the benefits of low temperature heating.”

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