As the UK continues to battle through the coronavirus crisis, HVAC business owners and installers can be putting some of their enforced downtime to good use. This period of subdued trading is a rare opportunity to get into better shape for when economic activity picks up. One way of doing this is by sharpening the focus on markets which promise strong growth – and few markets are growing faster than that for heat pumps.  

The potential here is huge. Some 28,000 heat pumps are currently installed in the UK every year, and before the pandemic this number was rising annually at a rate of 15-30%. That equates to sales doubling every three to five years. New-builds account for the majority of those sales, but 30% are retrofits, and about 30% of those retrofits are in private residences.

This means there’s a big opportunity for doing conversions from oil boilers to heat pumps at rural homes not connected to the gas grid.

The ‘New Normal’ and Heat Pumps

It is only realistic, of course, to expect a lingering dip in HVAC sales of all kinds, including heat pumps, until the post-pandemic world gets back on its feet. But when we do turn the corner into the ‘new normal’, heat pump sales will again climb strongly. One reason for this is consumer demand, the other is government policy.

End-users are now increasingly aware of the dangers and disruptions threatened by carbon emissions and climate change – informally known as ‘the Blue Planet Effect’ – and more are being guided by their consciences to make environmentally-responsible heating choices.

An Expected Spike In Demand

Many end-users are also encouraged by the prospect of receiving payments from the government through the Domestic RHI tariff.

When we do turn the corner into the ‘new normal’, heat pump sales will climb strongly

If RHI tariffs are the carrot, however, the government is also going to wield a big stick. The Chancellor’s spring statement last year dropped the bombshell that low-carbon heating systems, not fossil-fuel heating, should be installed in all new homes built after 2025. Though this policy might perhaps get slightly delayed and diluted, there can be no doubting that radical change is on the way.          

With all this in the pipeline, the industry should be preparing now to cope with the increased demand. But there’s some way to go: of the UK’s 120,000 registered gas engineers, merely 600 or so are MCS-registered to install heat pumps. Many more will be needed.

MCS Certification

Some installers are already recognizing this opportunity.

Some 28,000 heat pumps are currently installed in the UK every year, and before the pandemic this number was rising annually at a rate of 15-30%

This is evident in the heightened level of interest in the one-day introductory heat pump courses run nationwide by the Viessmann Academy. These courses provide a useful overview of what heat pump installations involve, helping participants decide whether or not they would like to go on to qualify with the MCS quality assurance scheme.

This is a crucial decision, because having MCS certification is an obligation when installing equipment eligible for Domestic RHI payments. Some course participants decide to take the next step to MCS certification straight away, others decide to wait a while – but standing still in a fast-moving market can mean getting left behind!

F-Gas Certification

So what else must HVAC businesses and installers consider about heat pumps, in order to stay ahead of the game?

In addition to MCS certification, F-Gas certification is also necessary when split air source heat pumps are installed. This is because the outdoor and indoor units have to be connected on-site with refrigerant pipework. Some installers choose to get F-Gas certified themselves, others sub-contract this part of the job to someone who’s suitably qualified.

Of the UK’s 120,000 registered gas engineers, merely 600 or so are MCS-registered to install heat pumps

It is possible to sidestep this need, however, when it is appropriate to install a monobloc heat pump – and the widening choice and affordability of monobloc designs is making them appropriate for a wider range of properties. A good example of this is Viessmann’s new Vitocal 100-A, an outdoors unit which has no need for a complementary indoor unit and is also easy to install because most components are integrated in the unit.

New, compact and affordable air source heat pumps such as this, offering much-needed space-saving solutions for urban homes, are another reason why the heat pump market will boom.

The Challenges Of Heat Pump Installation

Though technological advances are making things easier, installing a heat pump isn’t ever going to be quite as straightforward as replacing an old boiler with a new one. Before starting an installation, first it is necessary to assess whether a heat pump is suitable for the property.

This means checking that the property is well-enough insulated; checking the existing system’s radiators, which may need supplementing or replacing with bigger radiators or underfloor heating because of the lower flow temperatures of a heat pump system; and calculating the required size of the heat pump according to the building’s heat loss (and not including hot water demand).

This period of subdued trading is a rare opportunity to get into better shape for when economic activity picks up

At the installation stage itself, much of the work will be familiar to boiler installers, though weather compensating controls are obligatory for all MCS-approved work and as part of building regulations Part L.

It’s also important to note that planning permission requires minimum distances between the heat pump’s outdoor unit, the plot’s borders, and neighboring properties. If this seems complicated, it doesn’t have to be: some heat pump manufacturers provide a calculator to simplify the task.

Now Is The Time To Be Proactive

Just as installers need a little time to assess whether a property should switch from a boiler to a heat pump, end-users also need a little thinking time, to consider adopting a technology new to them.

By being proactive, HVAC businesses and installers can reap what they sow

When customers get in touch because their existing boiler has broken down, the pressure for a quick fix can rule this out. But right now, when many of us have time on our hands, there’s the chance to inform customers of alternative heating solutions before their boiler needs replacing. Taking such pre-emptive action, by emailing information or mailing leaflets to customers, does require a little effort, but at least now there’s the time to do it.

We are heading into a new era which will see boiler sales decline while heat pump sales rise. By making preparations for these profound changes, and by being proactive, HVAC businesses and installers can reap what they sow.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

Darren McMahon Marketing Director, Viessmann UK

Darren has been working as the Marketing Director of Viessmann UK since May 2010. Prior to this he also worked as the Head of Marketing for Baxi Heating UK, and the Head of Marketing for Valor. He has degrees in marketing and business & finance from the University of Derby.

In case you missed it

Honeywell Applies Machine Learning To Boost Energy Efficiency Of Buildings
Honeywell Applies Machine Learning To Boost Energy Efficiency Of Buildings

Machine learning provides a tool to lower energy costs in a building, and Honeywell has launched a platform that incorporates the newer technology. Combining self-learning algorithms with building automation, Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization is a cloud-based system that analyzes a building’s energy consumption pattern and adjusts its settings. “We can help building portfolio owners fine-tune their energy expenditures to drive efficiencies and create more sustainable practices,” says David Trice, Vice President and General Manager, Honeywell Connected Buildings. Autonomous building solutions Honeywell says the autonomous, closed-loop building solution may deliver double-digit energy savings while decreasing a building’s carbon footprint. It can be implemented without significant capital expense or changes to a building’s current operational processes. The system autonomously and continually optimizes a building’s internal set points across hundreds of assets every 15 minutes by evaluating whether the HVAC system is running at peak efficiency.  When analyzing when to make an adjustment, the system considers factors such as time of day, weather, occupancy levels and other data points. The system considers factors such as time of day, weather, occupancy levels Honeywell Forge Energy Optimization calculates its decisions 96 times per 24-hour period in every building in a portfolio. Deployment is a simple plug-and-play process with no changes needed to business mechanics. Systems do not need to be rip-and-replaced. Results of the technology The technology has been demonstrated in a pilot at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, achieving an initial 10% energy savings. The pilot achieved the extra savings over and beyond what was achieved earlier in the highly smart, energy-efficient building with fully connected lighting, cooling, building management, power and efficiency control optimized based on real-time occupancy. The pilot also uncovered local control issues with the chiller plant and fresh air handling unit that were not adjusting to set points. “Honeywell Forge [was able] to drive further energy savings beyond our achievable optimization with the techniques we [had],” says Dr. Mansoor Al Awar, HBMSU’s Chancellor. The university is collaborating with Honeywell to support the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to drive operational efficiencies. Energy consumption in commercial buildings is significant. Buildings and buildings construction combined are responsible for more than 36% of global final energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Energy demand in these sectors continues to rise, driven by improved access to energy in developing countries, greater ownership and use of energy-consuming devices, and rapid growth in global buildings’ floor areas. Opportunities for energy saving It is a market where the potential impact of greater efficiencies is huge It is a market where the potential impact of greater efficiencies is huge. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning often presents the largest opportunity for energy savings in a commercial building. “Buildings aren’t static steel and concrete – they are dynamic ecosystems and their energy needs fluctuate based on ever-changing variables like weather and occupancy,” says Trice. “We are evolving building operations far beyond what would be possible even with a robust team of engineers and the rules they code in their building management system.”

Elon Musk Expresses His Vision For Residential HVAC Innovation – Should We Listen?
Elon Musk Expresses His Vision For Residential HVAC Innovation – Should We Listen?

When a visionary industrial designer turns his attention to the HVAC industry, it’s probably wise to take note. Recently, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, Elon Musk expressed his vision for residential HVAC, based in part on a new heat pump his engineers designed for the Tesla Model Y electric compact sport utility vehicle. Efficient, quiet home HVAC system According to several reports, Musk seeks to build an efficient and quiet HVAC system for the home, piggybacking on the technology used to make heaters for the newest Tesla Model Y. It’s the first of Tesla’s electric cars to use a heat pump, which is more efficient than previous electric heating systems. Tesla’s previous vehicle models used resistance heating, which is a battery hog Tesla’s previous vehicle models used resistance heating, which is a battery hog. The new heat pump component, including a compressor/chiller and liquid cooled condenser, is designed to be more energy-efficient and provides a more reliable vehicle operation range in cold weather conditions. Model Y heat pump “The model Y heat pump is some of the best engineering I’ve seen in a while,” said Musk on Twitter, adding “[The] team did next-level work.” Musk would ‘love to do HVAC that’s quiet and efficient with humidity control and HEPA filter’ for the home. Tesla car-inspired temperature controls Musk stated that he imagines a full-home HVAC system that is inspired by and maybe linked with the temperature controls inside someone’s Tesla vehicle. The proposal is in line with Musk’s mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. He said, “Reducing a home’s energy usage while deploying solar power capacity are complementary goals”. High-efficiency particulate air filters Tesla HEPA filters are about 10 times larger than a normal automotive cabin air filter Tesla already has experience with HVAC systems and high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters used to clean the cabin air in their Model 5 and Model X vehicles. The Tesla HEPA filters are about 10 times larger than a normal automotive cabin air filter and about “100 times more effective,” according to the company. Tesla HEPA filters The filters remove at least 99.97% of the fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen and mold spores. Tesla refers to the extreme level of air cleaning as ‘Bioweapon Defense Mode’. Among other benefits, the filtering system protected California drivers from smoke and kept the vehicles’ cabin air clean during the recent wildfires. Musk first mentioned home air conditioning systems about two years ago, alluding to a home HVAC system that is quiet and efficient with humidity control and a HEPA filter. HEPA filter in a home system “The use of a HEPA filter in a home system would be a ‘life changer’ for people with allergies”, says Musk. The growing popularity of home air purifier products supports the conclusion. Communication between a Tesla vehicle and a Tesla home climate system would allow an intelligent air conditioning system to ‘know’ exactly when a resident will get home and only cool the home as appropriate to save energy. Energy-efficient, high performance HVAC systems Musk has also questioned the wisdom of home air conditioner systems that make pure, fresh water Musk has also questioned the wisdom of home air conditioner systems that make pure, fresh water and then dump it on the ground. The HVAC market has had its share of innovation in recent years, as today’s more energy-efficient, quieter and better-performing systems can attest. Smart thermostats, climate control systems There has also been lots of development in the area of smart thermostats and climate control systems, with the results approximating what Musk envisions achieving with communications between his smart vehicles and smart home systems. But is it time to rethink the technologies again? There is certainly opportunity in the market for any systems that provide better, more sustainable performance, no matter where the ideas originate. Given Musk’s success envisioning a future of electric cars and lower-cost space travel (among other ideas), his thoughts on the future of the HVAC market are at least worth considering.

HVAC Apprenticeships: Investment In Extraordinary Times
HVAC Apprenticeships: Investment In Extraordinary Times

These are unprecedented times for the cooling, heating and ventilation industries. Our ways of operating have been dramatically altered. For many organisations, the short-term focus has been on survival, but as we tentatively look towards the recovery phrase, we are being presented with the chance to embed new ways of working which offer the opportunity for our industries to lead the charge towards future growth. The impact of COVID-19 has the potential to amplify the skills shortages which were threatening to cripple our industries even before we were faced with the challenges of ‘working in lockdown’. Data from the Department of Education has shown that we are failing to attract enough young engineers to fill the posts available. For those that were starting an apprenticeship, a report by the Institute of Refrigeration found that core engineering skills deemed extremely important by employers were not being met by recently recruited apprentices. These issues combined with the disruption young people are now experiencing to their education and training, have the potential to dramatically increase the skills gap. Apprenticeship Trailblazers Having delivered training in the HVACR industry for over thirty years, I believe the launch of the new RACHP Engineering Technician Apprenticeship offers us the first real opportunity to work together to drive up standards and revive the interest of young people in considering a career in the cooling, heating and ventilation industries. A report by the Institute of Refrigeration found that core engineering skills deemed extremely important by employers were not being met by recently recruited apprentices Known as a Trailblazer, this new industry-led apprenticeship saw employers, for the first time, define the new frameworks and standards. This involvement means we should be confident that young people are being trained and assessed to the level required. However, to ensure the continued success of Trailblazers we need all in industry to engage with this new apprenticeship framework and work closely with Colleges and Training providers to implement it, especially in these difficult times. The young people we support today with quality advice, knowledge and skills, will be our workforce of tomorrow. Futureproofing Programmes I am aware that the introduction of the new Trailblazers has not been without its challenges, particularly around the introduction of End-Point Assessment. Yet I believe it is this, that will future-proof our apprenticeship programmes. I believe it is this [Trailblazers], that will future-proof our apprenticeship programmes Instead of being assessed continually throughout their course, all apprentices now must undertake an end-point assessment to complete their qualification. The independent End-Point Assessor’s role is to test whether each apprentice has gained the skills, knowledge and behaviours outlined in the standard set by employers. Unlike previous training programmes, the apprentice is then graded, and like it or not, this is playing an important role in developing the employability attributes of young people entering our industries. I have seen first-hand how the grading system is motivating apprentices to work harder and stretch themselves to achieve a pass, merit or distinction. Enhancing Training With Skills Competitions The new industry-led apprenticeship provides a strong platform for employers to raise standards in our industries, but there is more that we can do to develop our apprentices further. Each year, thousands of young people enhance the training they receive through their apprenticeship by participating in WorldSkills UK Competitions. The ACR industry skill competition ‘SkillFridge’, is delivered in partnership with WorldSkills UK, and assesses apprentices’ knowledge, practical and employability skills in time pressured conditions. The competition is free to enter, and employers can access the Apprenticeship Levy to support their apprentices’ involvement. At last year’s National Final, held in front of over 70,000 visitors at WorldSkills UK LIVE, the UK’s largest apprenticeship, skills and careers event, 95% of those competing said their personal and employability skills had improved after taking part in the competitions. Employers I have spoken with have also remarked on the positive impact competitions have had on their wider workforce, who, spurred on by the apprentices’ success have been encouraged to look at their own training needs. Mark Forsyth with apprentice Chris Bailie who won Silver at WorldSkills Sao Paulo 2015 The ongoing development of our workforce is an issue that has also been highlighted by the Institute of Refrigeration. It found that there is an urgent need for CPD for those who have entered our industries in the last five years, with many showing significant skills gaps. WorldSkills UK’s counterpart WorldSkills Russia has addressed this issue by working with employers and schools to extend its skills competition training programme to enable a wider age range and more diverse groups to enter, not just apprentices. Implementing Global Standards Age eligible winners of SkillFridge are invited to compete for a place in the team that will represent the UK at WorldSkills, the ‘Skills Olympics’. The new industry-led apprenticeship provides a strong platform for employers to raise standards in our industries I am currently remotely training apprentices Dominic Dray who works for Royale Refrigeration and attends Eastleigh College, and Jack Newton, who works for Crowther and Shaw Ltd and attend Leeds College for the next WorldSkills event which takes place in Shanghai, China, next year. There is only one place on the team to represent the UK in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and whether its Dominic or Jack who is successful, they will experience an incredible journey and unique method of personal development. Representing your country on an international stage and competing alongside talented peers with the aim of being crowned the best in the world at your skill is an opportunity like no other.  Powering The Technical Education Sector Working with my fellow trainers to support WorldSkills UK in bringing back international best practise to the UK, by using global benchmarking, WorldSkills UK is working to power the development of a world-leading technical education sector and it is my hope that this insight can be used to inform the future development of Trailblazers to ensure we continually raise standards to deliver new solutions for our clients and attract the best young talent. Crucial to the rebuilding of the UK economy, and to ensuring the sustainability of our industries, will be highly skilled, motivated young people. That is why, alongside concentrating on recovery strategies, I am urging business leaders to remain focused on supporting the next generation of engineers so they can play an active role in developing the future of our industries.

vfd