The hybrid heat pump approach is ideal for gas boiler installers to lead the way in moving households to low-carbon heating – and tap into a growing market.
While the government can legislate that new homes must be ready for low-carbon heating by 2025, our existing domestic building stock is another issue, and it’s one of the biggest hurdles on the road to a Net Zero UK in 2050.
Around 85% of UK homes rely on gas boilers, meaning about 24 million households must switch to low-carbon, energy-efficient heating. In addition, there are 4 million homes which are off the gas grid and using LPG or oil boilers. The government target is 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028. Some will be in commercial buildings, but most will be in homes. The question is, how can householders be persuaded to make this change?
Often homeowners are uncertain about leaving their reliable gas boilers behind. This is understandable when considering the potential upheaval of a heat pump installation in an existing house.
For instance, 70% of homes using gas have a combi boiler, so there is no hot water cylinder. If a heat pump is installed to provide heating and hot water, space must be found for a cylinder to match the system. Even if a home does have a hot water cylinder, it’s likely that a new one will be required. That’s not an easy ask for most homes, where space is often at a premium.
This is where a hybrid heat pump approach can work well. In a hybrid system, the heat pump can provide the heating while the boiler produces hot water. This removes the challenge of adding the water cylinder since a gas combi-boiler can still provide hot water when needed.
Using a heat pump and boiler in tandem is also a good option for a home with high heating demand. For this type of property, perhaps an older construction-type building, including a boiler in the system, means that during peak demand, in cold weather, for example, the boiler can boost the heating in the home, keeping it comfortable.
At Alpha, we think there are five strong reasons for gas boiler installers to extend their expertise and step into the world of hybrid heat pumps:
- The UK needs more heat pump installers urgently
- Government is changing energy pricing – making electric heating more attractive
- Hybrid heat pump systems can make the most of these changing prices
- Improved insulation makes homes better suited for hybrid heat pump heating
- Gas installers already have the ideal expertise to deliver hybrid heat pump systems
The UK needs more heat pump installers urgently
The UK government set a target of 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028. There are not enough installers to achieve that by quite a large margin. The Microgeneration Certification Scheme estimates there are only 4,000 qualified heat pump installers in the UK, but the government estimates we need closer to 35,000. This creates a significant opportunity for skilled installers who are already dealing with domestic customers and who are most likely to be presented with the opportunity to use new skills. Training courses are available from manufacturers, including Alpha Heating Innovation.
Government is changing energy pricing – making electric heating more attractive
By a strange quirk of domestic energy pricing in the UK, gas is much cheaper than electricity for most households. This has left many consumers understandably reluctant to switch to electricity because even though a heat pump is highly efficient, the kilowatt hour pricing all but wipes out any savings. But that is set to change with the Energy Prices Act (2022)* which was introduced to reduce the cost of electricity for domestic consumers. This will be achieved mainly by shifting the burden of sustainable energy support from electricity to gas. This means that the price differential between gas and electricity will close over the next few years.
Hybrid heat pump systems can make the most of these changing prices
One of the benefits of a hybrid heat pump and boiler system is that it can automatically switch between ‘fuels’, depending on which is the most cost-effective at any time. With the hybrid approach, it’s vital to work with an installer who understands the requirements of this dual system. Experienced gas installers are, therefore, well-placed to help customers make the most of this benefit.
Improved insulation makes homes better suited for hybrid heat pump heating
Insulating homes is crucial to the government’s strategy to make existing homes more efficient. But with increased loft, wall and window insulation, problems can arise.
If we combine a more airtight building with a high-temperature boiler heat system, problems such as condensation and mould can arise. This is because boilers raise the air temperature quickly but can leave walls and windows cold – allowing condensation to form.
With a heat pump system, the indoor air temperature rises slower, allowing interior surfaces to warm simultaneously, reducing moisture build-up and reducing mould risk.
Although good ventilation is also essential to avoid mould problems, there is no doubt that in better-insulated homes, using a heat pump for heating makes more sense when we consider the health and wellbeing of occupants.
Gas installers already have the ideal expertise to deliver hybrid heat pump systems
Heat pump technology may differ from a gas boiler, but many of the skills in the installation are the same. With an air-to-water heat pump, there are still radiators (or underfloor heating circuits) to plumb. System controls such as thermostats are also the same.
And while a short training course can provide the basics of heat pump installation, the knowledge needed to balance a home heating system and advise domestic customers is not so easily acquired. So, experienced gas boiler installers can bring a lot to the table to ensure that heat pump heating systems work effectively and that customers know how to operate them.
These are essential points because happy customers who are confident that their heat pump system will provide the heating and hot water they need are more likely to provide good feedback and encourage others to switch from gas.
For gas boiler installers, offering heat pumps as part of their range may not have been a consideration. But this could be because the has been an ‘either-or’ attitude to these technologies, requiring a commitment to one technology. But with a hybrid approach, the customer gets the best of both worlds, including making the most of future energy price changes. This makes heat pumps a more attractive option for householders and installers.
The UK will shift away from fossil fuels, with gas power stations going the way of coal and moving to green electricity. The only question installers should be asking is, can you afford to be left behind?