Mass rollout of heat pumps feasible, but innovation needed to accelerate take up

  • Interest in heat pumps is high across Britain, with over 8,800 households applying in three regions to participate in the Electrification of Heat (EoH) Demonstration Project, resulting in a total of 742 heat pumps being installed.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades were only made for 15% of properties where a heat pump was installed – in most cases this was loft insulation.
  • The main barrier reported by participants to progressing to a heat installation was disruption, with 47% of participants citing this as their main concern.
  • Innovation will be key to reduce the upfront costs of a heat pump installation to minimise disruption to households and establish mass consumer buy-in.

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%) and interest in new technology (63%) 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% 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 – external or internal space constraints
  • Technical – heating capacity constraints
  • Economic – cost of upgrades required
  • Consumer – installation challenges

A lack of external space for an outdoor unit was cited in 8% of cases where a heat pump was not recommended, with 2% lacking the internal space for a thermal store such as a hot water tank or larger radiators. For 4% 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% of participants who decided not to proceed with a heat pump installation.

Guy Newey, Chief Executive Officer at Energy Systems Catapult, said: “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.

“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.”

Alex Thwaites, Head of Zero Carbon Living at OVO Energy, said: “We’re committed to helping our customers decarbonise their homes through practical and innovative solutions. This trial helped us to accelerate the way we heat our homes, removing our reliance on gas and paving the way to a zero carbon future. Now more than ever, we need to collaborate as an industry to find sustainable ways to heat households across the UK.”

Paul McGhee, Managing Director of Warmworks’ Social Housing Division, said: “Warmworks has been pleased to deliver the Electrification of Heat Demonstration Project to homes in South East Scotland through funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“We know that air source heat pumps are an increasingly important element in the mix of low carbon, energy saving technologies that can support homes to stay warm, manage their energy bills and reduce their impact on the environment by switching to a renewable form of heating technology. As we look ahead to a zero-carbon future, it’s vital that all households have the ability to access and benefit from new and innovative technologies in the most effective way.”

Michael Lewis, E.ON UK Chief Executive, said: “We’ve been installing heat pumps in homes across the UK for many years and we’re convinced they’re critical to making homes more comfortable, more efficient and cheaper to heat. With rising energy bills caused by wholesale gas markets, it’s crucial that we find alternative ways to heat our homes that rely less on fossil fuels, both for price and environmental reasons.

“Through this Project we’ve installed energy efficient heat pumps free to over 300 homes across Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. While we realise there are still barriers to people considering installing heat pumps in their homes, the Project’s results have shown that it can be done – and, most importantly, that people feel the benefit – and that ever-improving technology means all types of homes can now be fitted with one.”

Participant Recruitment – Recommendations

Creating a seamless customer journey will be necessary to advance the adoption of heat pumps. There are several recommendations made by the report to enhance customer engagement, including:

  • Providing customers with an overview of the design and installation journey at the outset can allay their concerns and establish buy-in to the process.
  • Providing a digestible summary of the facts and assumptions about their property.
  • Ensuring access to dedicated customer support staff is provided to drive support and further the positive relationship between consumer and industry.

Home Surveys and Installation – Recommendations

The report found that the sector has an opportunity to improve the delivery and consistency of the installation supply chain. This could be achieved by:

  • Conducting a review of the design and installation requirements and guidance as well as the installer certification process such that it ensures high quality installations and increases consumer confidence in the industry.
  • Offering support and training for domestic heat pump system designers and installers.
  • Standardising the heating system design tools to ensure a consistent design standard.

Management Contractor

The Management Contractor consortium (a partnership of Energy Systems Catapult, Delta-EE and Oxford Computer Consultants) has a role in disseminating the Project findings and as part of this role Case Studies have been written. These Case Studies reflect the first-hand experiences of 7 households taking part in the programme as described in their own words.

Read the Report

Electrification of Heat - Participant Recruitment Report

Read the Report

Electrification of Heat - Home Surveys and Install Report

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