Innovation needed to accelerate take up of heat pumps

heat pumps

There is no property type or architectural era that is unsuitable for a heat pump. However, scaling the roll out of heat pumps across Great Britain will require cross-sector innovation to overcome the challenges to adoption, including upfront costs and disruption during installation, according to the new findings from the ‘Electrification of Heat’ Demonstration Project.

Funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Demonstration Project is working to understand the technical and practical feasibility, and constraints of a mass roll out of heat pumps into British homes. The lessons from this Project will help to inform the approach taken by industry to meet government aims of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.

The Project aimed to install up to 750 heat pumps, with Warmworks, E.ON, and OVO Energy appointed as the delivery contractors in the South East of Scotland, North East of England, and the South East of England respectively. The Project received 8,807 expressions of interest from households who cited sustainability and low carbon heating (78 per cent) and interest in new technology (63 per cent) as the most common reasons for wanting to participate. In total, the Project installed 742 heat pumps into a broad spectrum of housing types, to reflect a representative sample of households in Great Britain.

Heat pumps were found to be widely suitable across a broad spectrum of housing types and the Project demonstrated that energy efficiency upgrades are not always necessary to install a heat pump. For instance, energy efficiency upgrades were only made for 15 per cent of properties where a heat pump was installed – in most cases this was loft insulation. The majority of homes where a heat pump was installed had an Energy Performance Certificate rating of C or D.

The latest two reports examine data released by Energy Systems Catapult; the Net Zero Innovation Centre appointed to lead the management contractor consortium. The reports – ‘Home Surveys and Installation‘, and ‘Participant Recruitment‘ – identified four barriers to adoption: practical, technical, economic, and consumer.

A lack of external space for an outdoor unit was cited in eight per cent of cases where a heat pump was not recommended, with two per cent lacking the internal space for a thermal store such as a hot water tank or larger radiators. For four per cent of properties assessed, the cost of installation and/or additional measures such as insulation meant that effective installation of a heat pump was deemed too expensive to proceed with.  

The main barrier reported by participants to progressing to a heat pump installation was the disruption of having the heat pump installed. This was reported by 47 per cent of participants who decided not to proceed with a heat pump installation.

“The Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project is providing crucial insights to help industry better understand how to scale-up heat pump adoption across Britain to meet the government’s ambitious target of 600,000 installations per year by 2028,” said Guy Newey, chief executive officer at Energy Systems Catapult. “To reach the target, we will need to innovate to make switching to a heat pump as smooth a journey as possible for consumers; to drive down the costs of installation; and to provide a much better consumer-heating experience.

“From our own work, we feel this will require the sector to translate complexity into digestible, consumer-friendly offers – such as bundling net zero products like heat pumps into energy tariffs – to help customers to retrofit their homes. Any low carbon heating solution needs to be as good, or better than, the alternatives if we are to go at the scale and pace we need for our net zero targets.

“We are already seeing incredible innovations from some of Britain’s most exciting companies – both from inside the trial and outside. Innovations in new technologies and methods of heat pump manufacture, new installation techniques and digital controls, and new business models. Together these innovations – within a reformed policy environment that incentivises low carbon choices – could help transform the sector, delivering thousands of new jobs.

“The government also has a role to play in driving forward innovation in the market. The ‘Heat Pump Ready Programme’, funded by BEIS for instance, is opening new doors for innovation in the sector.”

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