There are 30m homes and buildings in the UK, and they account for approximately a quarter of UK emissions. The government, which has added a legal duty to the Energy Bill that must be achieved net zero by 2050, has made its best on tackling this source of pollution: heat pumps.
To reveal how the government’s plan is progressing, Harding Heating researched the people installing heat pumps, how satisfied they are with them, what is standing in the way of the government achieving its plan and what more the government can do.
The findings confirm that the wealthiest 30% of households are 10 times more likely to install a heat pump than the poorest, and three-quarters of those that have installed a heat pump live in a rural location. Those who install heat pumps typically have larger homes, with an average of 4 bedrooms versus 3 bedrooms for those that install a gas boiler. Interestingly, those installing a heat pump typically have older (pre-1900) or newer houses (post-2012). Whereas most populous category for those that opt for a gas boiler are houses built between 1950 to 1975.
Heat pumps are effective at heating water, with 89% satisfaction, but much less successful when it comes to heating space, with only 56% satisfaction. This trend is highlighted further by more than two-thirds having a second heat source, and of those, half were a wood stove and a third a gas boiler.
Almost three-quarters of people were more satisfied with a heat pump than their previous heating system (73%). Also, heat pump users were less likely to recommend a heat pump to their friends than those that installed a gas boiler, with a heat pump Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 18 versus 21 for gas.
A question often speculated on is how a heat pump impacts energy bills. A heat pump is unlikely to reduce your energy bills materially, with 66% of users being satisfied with running costs, compared with almost 60% running cost satisfaction for gas boilers, despite the inflated gas prices in 2022.
The government plans to make the pledge to reach net zero by 2050 a legal obligation. To achieve this obligation, they must affect change across almost every sector and every area of the UK, including household emissions.
Part of achieving their plan is to increase the number of heat pumps being installed by 20 times, from 30,000 annually currently to 600,000 annually by 2028. Harding Heating’s research revealed that this would take 27,000 new installers being needed, up from only 3,000 in 2022.
Echoing the trend of more heat pumps being installed in rural locations, the number of accredited installers is also highest in rural locations. Interestingly, Shropshire and Staffordshire are home to approximately three installers per 100,000 people, making a top 10 region in the UK.
It also appears that the energy companies have yet to join the government movement. Where a fifth of gas boilers are installed by energy suppliers, only 4% of heat pumps are.
The government has implemented a multi-pronged approach to hitting its target. They have launched the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), a £450m fund which they have intermated will be topped up if needed. The SIF seeks to “help turn the UK into the ‘Silicon Valley’ of energy” by backing heat pumps and other energy-related innovations.
The Boiler Upgrade Scheme gives grants of £5,000 towards heat pump installation, incentivising households to make the switch, but typically households will still have to pay another £5,000 on top, making heat pumps still twice as expensive as an average gas boiler.
From 2024, the government plans to introduce a £5,000 penalty to the boiler manufacturers per missed heat pump target.
Andrew Harding, managing director at Harding Heating, said: “We welcome the government’s efforts to electrify household heating, but I worry they don’t go far enough. The underpinning of their approach for households is to make the switch from gas boilers to heat pumps, but currently, only the wealthy can afford to install one. To counter this, we support higher subsidies for lower-income households to make heat pumps equal or, ideally less expensive than a gas boiler.
In addition to the cost barrier, the UK doesn’t have nearly enough installers to meet the 600,000-a-year installation target, so the government needs to address this challenge urgently. We believe grants can be part of the solution here too, but this time to fund some of the costs installers face in becoming qualified.
The industry and the government can’t and shouldn’t have to win the net zero battle on their own. The people of Great Britain also need to get behind the efforts and opt for heat pumps, so we can proudly make the UK a positive example in the fight against climate change.”