Government ambition to install 600,000 heat pumps can fail without enough skilled engineers in the supply chain, says committee

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The Government’s ambition to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 could fail unless there are enough skilled engineers in the supply chain, Environmental Audit Committee chair tells Energy Minister.

In a letter to Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Philip Dunne MP, reflected on evidence the Committee heard during its short inquiry on Technological Innovations and Climate Change: Heat pumps.

On 25 November, the Committee held an evidence session on heat pumps as part of their inquiry into technological innovation and climate change.

The Committee received 56 pieces of written evidence and held an oral session with representatives from Energy UK, The Regulatory Assistance Project, the Energy Networks Association and BEAMA.

Mr Dunne commented on the findings: “We are in an exciting and innovative time with new technologies coming to market that can make our net-zero ambition a reality, but the scale of the challenge is huge, and requires Government to set clear direction to instil industry confidence.

“Heat pumps could be transformative in decarbonising heating in our homes, and with homes emitting 20% of the UK’s greenhouse gases, it is a problem we need to meet head-on.

“Only when the supply chain is equipped to deliver the roll-out of 600,000 heat pumps a year, and costs are brought down for consumers, will we see heat pumps being a staple for many UK homes.”

While the Government’s ambition to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 is ‘commendable’ to meet net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the Committee identified a number of barriers that could stifle the plans.

The Government has proposed a consultation early next year on policy approaches to underpin the development of the UK heat pump market and the upcoming Heat and Building Strategy.

However, the Committee argues that clear direction is needed for industry given the short timeframe in which Ministers are seeking to deliver substantial increases in the pace of installations.

In written evidence and during the one-off evidence session the Committee held, witnesses explained that the supply chain is not currently equipped to install the numbers of heat pumps required.

Sufficient production and high-quality installation are key to making the roll-out happen, and while the initial growth in heat pump installers will come from reskilling existing gas and electrical engineers, there needs to be ‘a concerted attempt’ to bring new, skilled entrants into the market.

Therefore, the Committee is urging the Government to fund a dedicated training programme to support a long-term strategy for education and training in green jobs.

According to the Committee, the Green Homes Grant will support the take-up of heat pumps in UK homes, but industry needs the confidence to invest in skills and resource which is unlikely given the short window the scheme is currently expected to operate in.

Therefore, the Committee suggests that the scheme should be extended beyond March 2022 to become a multi-year scheme, which could help open the heat pump market.

Recently the Committee wrote to the Energy Minister about difficulties respondents to their survey had experienced in their early attempts to access the Green Homes Grant.

The Committee was also advised that reviewing the policy costs across gas and electricity could significantly improve the customer case for heat pumps, making them cheaper to run than gas boilers in many more domestic settings.

Mr Dunne has requested a response from Mr Kwarteng by 29 January.

The full letter can be read on the Environmental Audit Committee’s website.