Heat pumps: ‘Dire’ engineer shortage putting roll-out in jeopardy: ‘Out of touch!’

Boris Johnson discusses introduction of heat pumps to UK homes

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The Government has set a target of deploying 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028 as part of its Boiler Upgrade Scheme, But so far, meeting this target has proved a struggle, with the UK installing just 60,000 per year currently. With staggering installation costs of around £10,000 on average (although you can apply for a £5,000 Government grant), National Grid’s electricity system operator has said that current state incentives are “insufficient”.

But encouraging the public to switch to the low-carbon gas boiler alternative may not be the only issue hamstringing the Government’s roll-out.

According to Mike Foster, head of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, a shortage of heat pump engineers is proving a further hindrance to the Government target.

He told Express.co.uk: “In the heat and building strategy announced last year, the Government supplied figures used by the heat pump industry about the number of engineers that would be needed for the roll-out of heat pumps across the UK.

“We have questioned that number. We think it is wholly out of touch with reality and that there is indeed a dire shortage of heating engineers for heat pumps.“

In a report published by charity Nesta earlier this month, it was estimated that there are currently only 3,000 trained heat pump engineers in the whole of the UK.

But to meet the Government’s target, the charity claims that at least 27,000 will be needed in the next six years.

This would require increases of 4,000-6,000 per year, a staggering boost.

It would mean that more new engineers need to be trained every year than the number of engineers present in the whole industry.

Mr Foster added: “I looked just yesterday for a list of heating engineers to fit an air source heat pump if I was living in Birmingham. The city is hosting the Commonwealth games and has a population of a million people.

“There are 10 people (heat pump engineers) listed on the Government for the whole population of Birmingham..and that is within a 12-mile radius of the city.

“There is clearly a huge problem and the Government’s own website suggests that.”

And experts are not the only ones to have picked up on this.

Paul McDonald is a strategic management consultant who complained about his heat pump to Express.co.uk after speaking to an engineer about the boiler alternative that came with his flat.

He told Express.co.uk: “Heat pumps are a new technology which have a mixture of three requirements.

“An electricity requirement, a gas refrigerant requirement and a plumbing requirement.

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“So you need to have a multi-skilled technician involved in it, and basically there are not enough.

“If you are getting a new part fitted by a plumber, they might not do the electricity correctly or vice versa an electrician might not do the plumbing correctly.”

“There has not been, which is typical of this Government, a thought through plan to determine a critical path of introduction in terms of training people, training the manufacturing companies or getting the manufacturing companies to bring in the maintenance programmes etc.”

And Mr Foster confirmed this, but noted that it is “not illegal” to fit heat pumps without a qualified engineer.

However, he warned that this is “highly inadvisable”, and pointed out that a lot of heat pumps are in fact being installed by people without the necessary qualification.

The industry insider said: “Part of the problem the heat pump industry is grappling with is the number of heat pumps that are being installed by people without the MCS qualification that the Government suggests.”

But to get that MCS, Mr Foster said he was told that this costs around £2000, putting off those who need to be trained and would also need to take time off to earn that qualification.

Codrina Cretu, Senior Analyst of Nesta’s Sustainable Future mission said: “A shortage of trained heat pump engineers could put a spanner in the works of the government’s net zero target.

“We will need thousands more heat pump engineers trained every year to make real progress in providing low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers and meet the increasing demand for qualified installers, but this won’t happen while there is a risk of engineers spending more on training than they will make from it.

“Governments in the UK should look at trialling cash incentives to get more people and companies training heat pump engineers, as well establishing direct routes to training via low carbon heating apprenticeships and college courses.”

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