The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has welcomed the far-reaching plan announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a ‘green industrial revolution’ backed by £12bn in government investment, which could create up to 250,000 new jobs.
Decarbonising the heating industry sits at the heart of the 10-point plan, which includes a dramatic speeding up of the timetable for removing new homes from the gas grid by 2023 – two years earlier than planned – and a pledge to tackle energy efficiency in hospitals, schools and other public buildings through the £1bn Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.
The Green Homes Grant for homeowners has also been extended by a year until March 2022 following rapid take-up of the scheme that launched in September. This will be succeeded by the Clean Heat grant scheme and is timed to coincide with the end of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
BESA said the government deserved credit for delivering a “bold and progressive” plan, but added that significant investment in training and skills would be needed to turn vision into reality. It also believes that reinstating the 5% rate of VAT that used to apply to all energy efficient heating systems would give another boost to the market for low carbon upgrades.
Heat pumps were highlighted by the Prime Minister as a key technology for delivering many of the government’s decarbonisation goals and he wants the industry to be installing 600,000 a year by 2028. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has already set a target of one million a year by the 2030’s towards an eventual total of 19 million to achieve the government’s net zero targets.
This represents a “massive surge in the market that will both excite and alarm the industry”, according to BESA’s head of technical Graeme Fox. “It is an absolutely colossal opportunity, but we will have to rapidly scale up our capacity and will need considerable investment in skills to deliver all of this,” he said.
Speaking at the recent BESA National Conference, Graham Wright, chair of the Heat Pump Association (HPA), said the sector was currently installing just 30,000 heat pumps a year, a figure that could grow to 71,000 in 2021. He told the Conference the CCC target represented an “enormous leap when we are already contending with a skills gap”.
He said the HPA was working with BESA to set up a training scheme that could help upskill existing heating and plumbing engineers to carry out this work. He called for the government to make it mandatory to ensure installations were of sufficient quality so the technology could operate to its full potential.
“If there are lots of poor installations, it could harm the reputation of the whole technology,” said Fox; adding there needed to be better understanding of how heat pumps work. “There is a big issue with getting heating engineers to understand the technical aspects of low temperature systems.
“The government could also help to educate householders about running systems at low temperatures – we are moving away from 70 °C,” he added.
Industry estimates suggest more than 17,000 new heat pump installers will be needed to meet demand over the next decade.
BESA also welcomed the government’s commitment to developing hydrogen as a heating fuel. It has pledged to invest £500 m to pump prime up to 5 GW of hydrogen production by 2030 much of which could be used to further decarbonise heating.
Several manufacturers have already launched hydrogen-ready boilers and the Association believes this will become a key focus for the building engineering sector over the next two to five years.
BESA also called for domestic ventilation systems to be covered by the Green Homes grant to address some of the installation and quality problems householders are experiencing.
“More homes are being fitted with mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) to offset increased insulation and air tightness standards that improve energy efficiency,” said Fox. “However, many of these systems are being fitted by plumbers and electricians who do not understand ventilation and should have additional qualifications.
“This is leading to some serious problems with condensation and air quality that needs to be addressed through training and better understanding.”