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Rapid transitions of the past – can the same be achieved for heat pumps?

Authored by Marco on June 14, 2022

ASHP design

One of the key takeaways from the ‘10-point plan for a green industrial revolution’ was the government’s aim to deliver 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

So where are we now and where do we need to get to?

Well, in 2019 around 35,000 heat pumps were sold in the UK, up from 27,000 the year before. Fast forward two years to 2021 and this figure was around 67,000 – an increase of almost 50% over 2 years.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), we need to reach more than 1 million heat pump installations per year by the mid-2030s if we are to achieve our legally binding carbon reduction targets. If we follow the potential trajectory calculated by the Heat Pump Association (HPA), even the 600,000 target by 2028 does not quite reach the mark.

This is certainly a rapid transition, but is it achievable?

Rapid transitions – what have we learned from history?

Over the past 50 years – just two generations – our society has changed beyond all recognition. From our relationships with each other and family structures to the way we work and travel. Life changing technology has been invented and developed giving us a far greater understanding human behaviour and the delicate eco-systems that our planet relies on, and leading to advances in medicine, industry and communications.

After the First World War, hardly any homes in the UK had an indoor toilet. Then in 1919, it was written into law for the first time that all new dwellings must include an indoor WC. Thirty years later in 1949, a programme of grants stimulated upgrades in privately owned housing, but by 1967, 25% of properties still had no inside toilet or bathroom.

Today, it would be unthinkable to live in a house without at least one indoor bathroom.

Similar examples include gas central heating – a luxury in 1970 but a basic requirement a decade later – and fitted kitchens. We don’t need a fitted kitchen, but as housing and expectations have evolved, consumers are more than willing to pay for them.

Renewables have always been incentivised by financial gain and this has bred the expectation that they will provide a ‘payback’. But nobody considers the ‘payback’ on a new kitchen, so why do we think of heat pumps in this way?

Social conditioning is one major barrier to mass heat pump deployment – we need to change the ‘why should we’ to ‘why wouldn’t we’.

Is the heat pump transition achievable?

The scale of our heat pump ambitions has been matched in numbers before, it’s the timeframe that is ambitious. The difference is now that we an urgent deadline for decarbonisation that is out of our control.

Over the past few years, the government has shown a clear commitment to rapidly increase deployment of heat pumps to both new build and existing homes. Changes to Part L of the Building Regulations come into force very soon that will see an increased use of renewables in new builds and from 2025, all new homes will have to be ‘zero carbon ready’. By 2035 it is hoped that all new heating system installations will adhere to the same high standards.

All of this is a promising step in the right direction and if the government fully commits to collaboration and consultation with industry experts, manufacturers and installers, we will get there. 

Interested in training as a heat pump engineer? Check out our air source heat pump training and renewables qualifications.