Industry comment: Pause for thought?

Industry comment: Pause for thought?

With the recent announcement of delays to the key target dates on the road to net zero, Inta CEO Stuart Gizzi questions whether the changing deadlines may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Business needs certainty, whether you’re a jobbing plumber getting to grips with new heat pump technology or you’re a manufacturer like us, developing and making the peripherals that make them easy to fit.

Everyone needs to plan for change, and right now we’re in the middle of a change that we’ve been forced to plan for. My initial reaction when I heard the news about government deadlines being pushed back for the demise of petrol and diesel vehicles, as well as gas boilers, wasn’t one that the Prime Minister would have welcomed.

But since the initial ‘surprise’ of the government U-turn, I’m actually thinking that the extra breathing space might be good for consumers and the industry. That’s for heating, not for driving. The Inta fleet has been all electric or hybrid for some time now.

Replacing gas boilers with heat pump systems is expensive. To deliver the output needed for heating, they’re fine, but to deliver hot water, it’s a whole other world of over-engineering and over-specification. And really, really expensive.

“Since the initial ‘surprise’ of the government U-turn, I’m actually thinking that the extra breathing space might be good for consumers and the industry.”

I’ve been advocating for some time that the pragmatic solution to reduce carbon and still be affordable would be a hybrid system. Using a much lower output heat pump to look after heating, combined with a combi boiler to deliver hot water on demand. I’ve advocated so much that we’ve invested in a product for this hybrid market, but the patent process is still in legals, so I can’t talk about it.

I think that the broader picture with the government delay is to give the market some breathing space to allow pragmatic solutions to be developed — and I don’t like to use the same phrase as any prime minister — but it’s true. Current heat pump solutions for domestic settings aren’t ideal, drawing on technologies that are best suited for warming or cooling air, not water.

Incidentally, I’m not bashing heat pumps, because they’re brilliant at what they were originally designed to do. Yet what this breathing space offers not just us but the whole industry is the chance to develop better technology for the move away from gas.

These are really generic figures, but if you’re a consumer installing a full heat pump system for heating and hot water, it’s going to cost about £12,000 and be really disruptive to install. Installing a hybrid system, if you can utilise an existing boiler, could be around £4,000 less. This is a bonus for householders who are conscious of their green credentials and could achieve a whole lot of green for much less.

There is talk of the government grant increasing for heat pump installations too, although it’s not clear if the full amount will be available for hybrid.

Using an air source heat pump to heat a bath or a shower really isn’t a great solution — it might be greener than gas, but it’s still not quite right. There are some brilliant engineering brains in the sector, so instead of using this extra time tinkering around the edges of the technology that already exists, we need to spend it focusing them on some blue sky thinking, so that future generations can still have some blue skies to look forward to.

2050 might seem like a long time, but really, it is not.

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