A new report from Leeds University revealed the top ten ways to reduce our carbon footprint this month and it is no surprise to see heat pumps on the list. The lead author of the study, Dr Diana Ivanova echoed what many of us have been calling for well before the health crisis began. Over the last few months, our lives have transformed beyond comprehension and yet Government guidelines have quickly become the ‘norm’ for many. We have undergone changes that few could have anticipated and that many would have believed impossible, and we must keep the lessons we have learned close as we start to distance ourselves from the pandemic.
The reality is that the window of opportunity for tackling climate change is closing in on us and instead of doing everything we can to keep it open, we have been closing the gap.
As we slowly start to piece our economy back together, priorities must be reordered so that climate change is at the heart of every decision made. Lord Deben, Chair of the Committee on Climate Change has already emphasized this message in a recent letter to the Prime Minister, calling on the Government to ‘prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.’
People want and need cleaner air, improved mental and physical health, more green space - and healthier homes to live in. In the wake of an economic shut down, they also need employment. If the right decisions are made now, we can create thousands of green jobs and begin to prepare the workforce for the low carbon future the world demands.
Today, fossil fuel heating systems dominating the heating market despite the high cost attached to both the consumer and the environment. If we want to reduce our emissions to net zero by 2050 and avert the worst of the climate crisis, this cannot carry on. The good news is that it does not need to. Heat pumps are already an established solution to this very real problem, emitting 60% less carbon than a traditional gas boiler. However, whilst we have seen this market flourish in other parts of Europe, the availability of the technology alone is not enough to drive uptake.
At least 19 million heat pumps urgently need to be rolled out to meet our net zero target and we cannot meet that figure unless people are trained to install them. Heat pumps, like all heating systems, need to be correctly installed and commissioned to work, though the role of installers goes beyond that.
Installers are the bridge between households and the low carbon transition. A ‘public attitude tracker’ produced by the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy has already demonstrated that two thirds of people would only replace their heating system when theirs stops working or shows signs of trouble. More importantly, the majority would base their decision on the new system based on the knowledge shared by their heating installer. If they are not trained to install or understand the benefits of low carbon heating technologies, how can we expect consumers to make the switch? Like-for-like fossil fuel replacements will simply go on forever whilst climate change ticks on.
Investing in the retraining of the 100,000 registered gas engineers in the UK is therefore key to ensuring homeowners can make a fully informed purchase. With the right signal from Government, installers will capitalise on the opportunity to train in heat pumps, but there is little motivation to embark on the low carbon journey as things are today. Installers are at the heart of the low carbon heating transition and are a steppingstone to cleaner, more resilient homes. With the right priorities in place, the right policies will be made, and we can start emerging from this pandemic and making our way to net zero. A trained workforce is essential, but Government must first lead the way.