Heat pump nightmare as engineer shortage may deal ‘blow’ to target

Heat pump grant is 'scheme for wealthy' says Andy Mayer

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The Government may fail to hit its target to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 due to a major shortage in engineers, which is three times worse than first thought, industry experts have warned. Heat pumps are a low-carbon alternative that Westminster is scrambling to roll out to help the UK ditch its reliance on gas. This is so it can reach Net Zero emissions by 2050. Across the UK, around 24 million homes (85 percent of the total) still rely on gas boilers for heat, but the Government is looking at a proposal to ban the sale of gas boilers from 2025.

However, the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), an industry trade body, has claimed that the Government’s targets are a based on a huge underestimating of the number of installers required to meet those goals.

In the Heat and Buildings Strategy, published in November 2021, the Government published an estimated figure of 50,000 workers needed to meet their annual heat pump installation target of 600,000 by 2028. But EUA industry experts have made widely different labour force calculations.

Mike Foster, the head of the EUA, said: “Underestimating the future workforce requirements risks the whole net zero agenda. Using industry-accepted practice, and analysis of how heating engineers actually work, we believe the Government estimate is out by a massive 100,000 installers or by 200 percent.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, the trade body’s boss added that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategies’ (BEIS) initial calculations only “looked achievable in light of a tight UK labour market”. 

Mr Foster told Express.co.uk: “The first stage in dealing with a problem is to recognise you have one. In 2021, BEIS published their strategy based on a theoretical figure for the number of trained installers needed; it was a convenient but inaccurate figure. It looked achievable in light of a tight UK labour market. But now it has been shown to be pie in the sky.

“At the time, we challenged the number and BEIS asked the heating industry to calculate, based on the real world, what it thought was needed. Our figures are based on how installers actually spend their time each week, not based on some computer algorithm.

 “Because it is based on the real world, we believe it is a more credible figure than the one officials hoped for. Recognising our figures have merit and that the earlier numbers are flawed would a first step towards actually doing something about it and getting more installers trained. 

“If the scale of the problem is three times bigger than you thought, then other solutions might be needed. We stand ready to help BEIS deliver the trained workforce they need and we have a plan to do just that.”

Mr Foster warned that his could deal a “hammer blow to the Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme. Under this scheme, the Government offers £5,000 grants to cover half of the average installation costs, which come in at an eye-watering £10,000 typically. 

He added: “Our economy is already suffering from huge skill shortages and publishing relatively low numbers of required installers might seem a clever wheeze to persuade Ministers that we can fit 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028.

“But in the cold light of day, underestimating the real requirements just deals a hammer blow to the target. It won’t be achieved and the sooner that is accepted the better.

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“The world and his dog know it takes considerably longer to fit a heat pump than replace a gas boiler, yet it seems this basic fact has been ignored by Whitehall officials desperate to stick to a plan no one believes in.

“We will need skilled installers to fit heat pumps, hydrogen boilers and still maintain our current stock of natural gas boilers. The industry has produced a pathway to do this. We want to help government achieve net zero but deliberately under-estimating what resource is required helps no one.”

BEIS has been contacted for comment. 

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