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In the coming decades, the government plans to phase out gas and oil boilers and replace them with renewable heating systems. To make this possible, to give us a shot of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, more people need to train as renewable heating installers. But when you were a teenager, if old people like Boris Johnson or George Eustice had told you that you ‘should’ choose a certain career, would you have listened? No, me neither. Yes, there will be plenty of environmentally motivated young people looking for a career that will make a difference in the world, but we cannot expect those people to carry the weight of the task ahead. Addressing the need for renewable installers The government has pledged to install 600,000 heat pumps per year in UK homes by 2028. It is an ambitious target, not least because there are currently not enough certified heat pump installers to meet expected demand. For example, at Boiler Guide, we are receiving 250% more heat pump enquiries than we were just 12 months ago. The Environment Audit Committee has warned that the UK is unlikely to achieve its net-zero carbon targets for all homes by 2050, without significant recruitment incentives for heat pump installers. Becoming an asset to the government’s ‘Green Revolution’ One route to success is for existing boiler engineers to up their skill in renewable technology One route to success is for existing boiler engineers to up their skill in renewable technology. This will certainly have a big part to play, as these people already have many transferable skills that will make them an asset to the government’s ‘Green Revolution’. However, given that more than half of Gas Safe-registered engineers are due to retire in the next decade, this is not a long term solution to growing the renewable sector. Younger generation to define the future of heating The second and more effective option would be for more young people and school leavers to choose a career in renewable heating. Of course, we cannot expect young people to make their career choice based on the fact that the government has targets. To strengthen the renewable industry’s frontlines, we need to speak directly to school leavers and young people, and to explain why a career in renewable heating could be a great choice for them on a personal level, as well as the planet. Here are some of the most compelling reasons why a young person should consider a career as a renewable installer. Renewable heating is the future From 2025, gas boilers will not be installed in newly built homes, and low carbon heating systems will need to be incorporated into properties as standard. Every existing home in the UK needs a heating system, and as fossil fuel boilers are phased out over the next 30 years, the renewable sector (including air source and ground source heat pumps, solar thermal, biomass boilers) will continue to grow. Heating installers are essential workers Young people should consider that during COVID-19, heating engineers were deemed, essential workers A major consideration for anyone choosing a career is whether the industry that they have chosen will provide them with long-term security, and the renewable heating industry certainly has that in its favor. To illustrate this point, young people should consider that during the COVID-19 pandemic, heating engineers were deemed, essential workers. Even when the country’s social and economic activities were halted, heating engineers were still needed. Renewable technologies are diverse While gas and oil boilers have dominated the heating landscape for many years, this is changing. In the next 30 years, it is likely that different properties will need different renewable heating systems, including plenty of hybrid systems, so the career promises plenty of variety and opportunities to diversify. In the future, a heating installer may be able to work not just with a boiler, but also with heat pumps, biomass, and solar. The more renewable technologies a person can install, repair, and service, the more varied, interesting, and lucrative their career will be. Renewable heating installers are in demand Because renewable heating installers, particularly air source heat pump installers, are in great demand at the moment, it is a great time for young ambitious people to be entering the industry. By getting started now as the industry is still blooming, they have the chance to corner the market in their area, and establish a positive reputation. Self-employment opportunity for renewable heating installers Renewable heating installers have the opportunity to start their own business and may work alone or with others Renewable heating installers have the opportunity to start their own business and may work alone or with others. This means that they will be in charge of their own hours, the projects they take on, and to an extent, how much money they earn. With the right business skills alongside technical knowledge, self-employment can be rewarding in multiple ways. However, for the many people that feel more secure when they are employed by a company and working with others, the industry could be ideal for them too. Renewable heating installers can be employed and they often work alongside other tradespeople, and as part of larger building projects. Many people cannot imagine a career that involves sitting in an office all day, every day. For people who enjoy being physically active, getting outside, meeting new people, and solving different problems every day, becoming a renewable heating installer is ideal. How to become a renewable heating installer There are several stages to becoming a renewable heating installer, and the training required obviously varies depending on the technology, the training provider, and the individual’s skill/experience. For example, a school leaver might begin by achieving NVQ Level 2 in Plumbing and Heating (or equivalent), as well as Water Regulations/Byelaws, Energy Efficiency Certificates, and G3 Qualifications. The NVQ typically takes around 1 year to complete alongside a practical apprenticeship. Renewable heating educational courses With that foundation, they can then move on to study Low Temperature Heating and Hot Water Systems (typically a 2-day course), a Heat Pump Foundation Course (2-day course), followed by a 1-day course specific to the type of heat pump they wish to install, i.e., air or ground source. Finally, renewable heating installers need to become accredited by the Micro-generation Certification Scheme (MCS), or an equivalent competency scheme.
Over the past few years, hydrogen has been dubbed the savior of residential heating and a major part of the plan to achieve carbon neutrality, yet new research suggests hydrogen should be reserved for the likes of aircraft and industry. As part of the 2016 Paris Climate Change Accord, the economies agreed to keep global warming under 2°C. A key part of achieving that has been an agreement to become net zero on greenhouses gases by the year 2050. Renewable heating method With heating currently accounting for one-third of UK carbon emissions, it is no surprise that it’s been a key focus as the government looks for new ways to reduce the country's overall carbon emissions. A ban on natural gas boilers and all new build properties was announced back in 2019 by Chancellor Philip Hammond and since then proposed gas boiler replacements have been the subject of intense research and debate. Hydrogen boilers have been a major contender in the race for a renewable heating method Hydrogen boilers have been a major contender in the race for a renewable heating method, along with heat pumps and solar, yet hydrogen has remained the strongest due to its ability to be used in conjunction with the current gas network. However, new findings have delivered a big blow to the proposed plans for heating millions of UK homes with hydrogen boilers. Existing gas network Currently, there are various projects underway to test the feasibility of rolling out hydrogen via the existing gas network, funded by both energy companies and the government. This includes the so-called ‘hydrogen village’ in Fife, Scotland, set to become the first location in the UK where hydrogen appliances will be trialed in over 300 homes and fed with hydrogen gas directly from the grid. Yet the new research, conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany had harsh words for such plans, noting that hydrogen fuel remains inefficient and expensive to produce. Hydrogen is one of the most common elements on Earth, yet the major issue is that it’s typically bound to another element and so needs to be separated. The production of hydrogen from water molecules, referred to as ‘green hydrogen’ is both expensive and demands a significant amount of electricity. Achieving carbon neutrality Major industries such as freight and metal production are more likely to rely on hydrogen power The research suggests that it may be more cost-effective and greener to rely on electricity directly to power both home heating and vehicles. The major reason for this is simply due to the fact that currently hydrogen production requires more electricity than is required to power either an electric car or an air source heat pump. Major industries such as freight and metal production are more likely to rely on hydrogen power to achieve carbon neutrality. Yet the stark reality is that a reliable supply of green hydrogen power is unlikely to be available for many years. Relying on it to power residential heating and vehicles is simply not attainable at the current speed of development. High carbon heating The major risk of this is that it simply results in countries being reliant on high carbon heating for even longer. For instance, if consumers are advised that having a gas boiler installed is fine because the fuel supply will eventually transition to hydrogen, yet it ends up being too expensive or difficult to supply these homes could eventually be emitting carbon for many more years ahead. Hydrogen is still seen as the ideal solution due to it being able to be used in conjunction with the current gas network. It’s also seen as the most affordable, for instance Energy Guide, has estimated that it would cost an average of £26,000 to switch each UK home to a low-carbon heating system such as heat pumps. Generating adequate hydrogen Many environmental campaigners are now calling for gas boilers to be removed But this new research is making it clear that ‘green hydrogen’ may not be here for some time and as a result, the plan for hydrogen boilers being the solution is untenable. As a result of these observations, many environmental campaigners are now calling for gas boilers to be removed and replaced with low carbon alternatives, including heat pumps. Generating adequate hydrogen to supply major industries such as freight and metal production will be a significant challenge on its own and expecting there to be enough to supply homes too is a huge feat that many are doubtful of. There are three major types of hydrogen production, including: Grey hydrogen - This is the dirtiest type of hydrogen production made through the natural gas being burned with steam, which also produces large amounts of carbon. Blue hydrogen - The hydrogen is still produced via the burning of natural gas but is greener as the carbon is captured and stored underground. Green hydrogen - This is the most environmentally friendly method of hydrogen production. It uses electricity to cause a reaction known as electrolysis, resulting in water molecules being split into their hydrogen and oxygen counterparts. Yet this process is much more expensive than the other methods and requires significant amounts of electricity to achieve. Decarbonize residential heating It’s clear that the government is taking whatever steps necessary to achieve carbon neutral status by 2050 and that home heating needs to be reformed but there are a number of barriers to get there and in the case of hydrogen the production process is the major area of contention. Many point to heat pumps as a suitable alternative, but is it really viable to expect most homes to pay for a brand new heating system with significant upfront costs? While strides have been made in the development of hydrogen-ready appliances and boilers, hydrogen production has not and it’s a considerable problem if it’s going to be relied upon to decarbonize residential heating.
As part of the UK Government’s stated commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, gas boilers, along with other fossil-fuel burning boilers, are to be banned in newbuild homes from 2025 under the Future Homes Standard. Although the ban has received a widespread welcome in principle, there has been criticism. Environmental groups have criticized the ban for not going far enough in tacking the escalating climate crisis, and the construction and home-building industries have criticized it for the challenges it brings in achieving a viable home-heating alternative in such a short space of time. Placing significant demand Despite the criticism, the ban doesn’t go far enough; applying to newbuild homes only, with, as yet, no plans to phase out gas heating in existing homes. New heating technology has to be ready to roll out before 2025, whether it’s to 160,000 homes per year (the annual approximate figure of new homes built) or the UK’s entire housing stock of 29 million. Despite the criticism, the ban doesn’t go far enough; applying to newbuild homes only The Home Builders Federation, in reaction to the Future Homes Standard, has said, “It’s going to be a challenge and a huge area of work.” And it is widely acknowledged there is significant demand placed on the building and HVAC industries to produce a long-term, viable solution. Challenges include the creation of new, cost-effective designs of energy infrastructures, and implementation in time for the short deadline of less than four years away. Gas boiler heating systems From energy design engineers to developers, suppliers, and energy companies, everyone in the supply chain is affected in delivering a solution that UK homeowners can afford and that developers can supply. The communications challenge also cannot be underestimated, to bring along the public to the reality that homes cannot, ultimately, continue to be heated by the gas boilers they are so familiar with. The most likely low-carbon alternative to gas boiler heating systems is generally acknowledged to be heat pumps and heat networks, powered by renewables. It has been estimated by the Committee on Climate Change that by 2030 there will be 2.5 million heat pumps in new homes. Heat pumps offer comparable heating power to gas boilers and are powered by low-carbon electricity. Heat pumps have great potential for saving carbon; approximately 25-85 tCO2 per home over an average lifetime, reducing carbon emissions by 90%. Existing gas system But hydrogen is expensive to produce and although the existing gas system could be readily used for supply But for heat pumps to provide the level of warmth, particular in winter, and summer, weather in the UK, their effectiveness relies on excellent insulation, including triple glazing and adaptations to walls, floors, and ceilings. And while there has been a drive to get our draughty homes better insulated in the UK in recent years, with various grants and funding, this will be particularly crucial for newbuilds going forward. Hydrogen boilers could be an alternative to gas boilers. Hydrogen produces no emissions when burnt, only water and heat. But hydrogen is expensive to produce and although the existing gas system could be readily used for supply, and by consumers already familiar with a boiler system, it is not yet seen as a full solution to the replacement of gas. Technically qualified workers Trials are due to be carried out in the north-east with hydrogen-ready boilers. But the impending deadline and challenge for production and systems to be ready and tested, for mass implementation is unrealistic. Even before the Future Homes Standard was announced, there was an acknowledged shortage of skills. Engineering UK, in a recent survey, found that an additional 1.8 million engineers and technically qualified workers would be needed by 2025 in order to meet demand. But the impending deadline and challenge for production and systems to be ready and tested Nearly a third of HVAC firms have declared a skills shortage, with many feeling there is a crisis in the sector of sufficient qualified workers who can satisfy the new regulations. Now the demand is set to rise with the ban, as well as Brexit. A large proportion of qualified HVAC workers are sourced from the EU, further compounding the crisis of the skills shortage already faced. Zero-Carbon technologies From imagining life without a gas boiler to a young person seeing their future career in engineering and renewable energy, effective communications and campaigns could go a long way. Targeted lifestyle campaigns, with positive, compelling case studies of homes of the future being powered by green, zero-carbon technologies could help to drive the momentum for innovation from a domestic base. Talent strategies could also combat the reality of an ageing and diminishing workforce in HVAC and other sectors. It’s vital now, more than ever, that young people see a career in renewable and eco-living technology as, not only rewarding but futuristic, global, and sophisticated. Any alternative to gas heating has to be affordable for UK households, and therefore for housing developers to adopt. Fuel poverty is a real risk. Energy-Saving measures The right help needs to be in place to support the development and take-up of the alternative According to the Committee on Climate Change, it costs £4,800 to install low-carbon heating in a new home, but £26,300 in an existing house while there are various funding initiatives for households adopting energy-saving measures, the right help needs to be in place to support the development and take-up of the alternative. Not just for newbuild homeowners, but beyond 2025 when existing households are called upon to switch. The Home Builders Federation have said of the Future Homes Standard, “Ambitious deadlines pose enormous challenges for all parties involved including developers, suppliers, energy companies in terms of skills, design, energy infrastructure and the supply chain.” Low-Carbon heating technology But there is also a stated dedication to achieving what can be realistically achieved, proving that there is a genuine commitment to ensuring our brighter, cleaner future and planet with low-carbon heating technology. The ultimate challenge now will be in Government, agencies, and industry working together, in a dedicated way, to be realistic about, and tackle the challenges across the board so the right solution for our home-heating future can be achieved, in time, and ready for a rollout for the new homes we build from 2025.
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