Heat Pumps in Field Services: Pros, Cons & Funding

Heat Pumps in Field Services: Pros, Cons & Funding

The debate on how we heat buildings in the future is intensifying. With energy prices skyrocketing, and the threat of global warming becoming more obvious every year, the pressure to adopt low carbon heating alternatives is mounting. 

Heat pumps are being pushed as one of the most viable alternatives. This blog considers the energy landscape, explores the pros and cons of heat pumps and explains how the government’s recently introduced Boiler Upgrade Scheme could help to put heat pumps more firmly on the map.

The Climate Emergency and the Energy Crisis

While climate change can no longer be denied it wasn’t until 2015, that world leaders came together to sign the Paris Agreement, committing to limit global warming and reach a climate neutral world by mid-century.

In the UK, the government pledged to decarbonise homes, and commercial, industrial and public sector buildings, to reach net zero by 2050. By 2025, gas boilers will be banned from newly built houses, and by 2035, the UK expects to phase out all gas boiler installations. 

It’s a tall order, since 87% of people in the UK rely on gas for heating. The switch won’t be easy since successive governments have failed to invest sufficiently in renewable energy technologies. The nation’s over-reliance on gas has made the UK more vulnerable to fluctuations on the global market, which is in part why we are so affected by energy price rises right now. Though there are political choices around how we tax energy. 

The government is under pressure to ensure people can access affordable and reliable heating in the future. The pressure is on to ditch gas and switch to renewables. Heat pumps have a vital role to play, says the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which aims for the installation of 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028 through targeted regulation.

Heat Pumps: The Options

Heat pumps (electrically powered devices) absorb heat from around a building. They work by gathering small amounts of heat energy from air, ground or water and concentrate it to warm up a building. 

Air source heat pumps take air from outside and use it to power a building’s heating and hot water systems. They are sometimes referred to as air-to-water heat pumps because they transfer heat from the outside air to water to heat rooms via radiators or underfloor heating. 

Ground source heat pumps (also known as ground-to-water heat pumps) absorb geothermal heat from the ground. A long or coiled pipe is buried in trenches, or a long loop is inserted into a borehole in the grounds or garden around the building. A mixture of water and anti-freeze flows around the pipe and heat from the ground is absorbed into the fluid. This then passes through a heat exchanger into a heat pump to heat the home/building.

Water source heat pumps use nearby water to extract energy from the water and turn it into heat. This can be from a nearby lake, loch, large pond, or river. Find out more about the different types of water source heat pumps here.

The Pros and Cons of Heat Pumps

The Pros:

  • Heat pumps can cut the carbon footprint of a home or building by up to 44%
  • Heat pumps are extremely efficient and can produce 3 or 4 times more heat than other forms of heating
  • The Energy Savings Trust estimates that a ground source heat pump could save between £790 to £1,425 per year on heating
  • VAT on heat pumps has been reduced to 0% for the next five years
  • The current Boiler Upgrade Scheme (see below) provides help with upfront costs

The Cons:

  • The upfront cost is much higher than that of a gas boiler – depending on the type of heat pump, costs can be anything from £6,000 to £35,000
  • Some buildings aren’t suitable i.e. the geology doesn’t allow for a borehole or trench
  • Government funding is falling short – just 0.3% of homes will benefit from the current scheme
  • Heat pumps can emit noise which could breach legal limits
  • BEIS warns that some energy saving devices could actually increase heating bills
  • A lack of installers – gas boilers have long dominated in the UK, leaving installers with little incentive to train to install heat pumps until recently

Funding and the Boiler Upgrade Scheme

From this month (April 2022), the government is providing grants to encourage property owners in England and Wales to install low carbon heating systems such as heat pumps, through the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS). 

The £450million scheme, which opens for grant applications and payments on 23 May 2022, is designed to make renewable energy more accessible to households. The scheme, which offers up to £6,000 towards the cost of installing a heat pump, will operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

Property owners (of homes or small non-domestic properties) need to check eligibility, but the scheme works via an installer, who will apply for the grant on the property owner’s behalf (and advise whether eligible). From 11 April 2022, installers will be able to open an account for the scheme with Ofgem, the scheme administrator. The Heat Pump Association (HPA) strongly recommends installers set up accounts as soon as possible.

In contrast to previous schemes, (such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, which offered financial help as a back payment after the installation of renewable technology), BUS provides households with upfront financial support.

If you want to take advantage of this future business as an installer then you must be MCS certified.

What is MCS accreditation?

MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) is an industry-led quality assurance scheme. The scheme certifies, quality assures and provides consumer protection for microgeneration installations and installers. The installations include solar PV, biomass, wind, heat pumps and heat products.

Find out more about MCS accreditation here.

What Does the Future Look Like for Gas Engineers?

First up, gas isn’t going anywhere soon. It will be a very long time before all the UK’s existing housing stock replaces gas boilers with more environmentally friendly alternatives. Remember, the gas boiler ban applies to new builds from 2025. It’s not until 2035 that installing a new gas boiler will be banned. 

Cynics say the gas boiler ban won’t happen for much longer. It is being ambiguously spun as a ‘confirmed ambition’ and not backed up by legislation, which gives the government a lot of wiggle room in the future. In fact, according to a report by Energy Live News, Boris Johnson is reportedly considering pushing the proposed ban on gas boilers back to 2040.

That said, gas engineers should still be thinking ahead about future-proofing careers. Upskilling and expanding skillsets will be essential, whether that be around heat pumps, solar or hydrogen, careers in the HVAC sector will need to be focused on renewables.

Joblogic: Supporting Engineers of the Future

Joblogic dashboard reporting for heat pump maintenance

As the HVAC industry innovates and evolves, it is even more important that HVAC companies ensure they have the right tools in place to work effectively. Joblogic’s HVAC software streamlines operations, centralises data, minimises administration costs, improves scheduling and asset management, and equips service engineers with easy-to-use software that makes life simpler and boosts compliance. 

Change in any industry can be unsettling for teams, but with the right tools in place, navigating it is a whole lot easier. Equip your teams for success with Joblogic. Call our experts today to find out more about the best software for HVAC software businesses.

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