The UK Committee on Climate Change has specifically identified heat-pump technology as part of their low-carbon strategy to replace gas boilers in buildings. However, new research suggests that if the UK is to meet its climate and energy goals then the current vocational education and training is inadequate and ill-prepared to do so.
This lack of skills and installer capacity could jeopardise the adoption of the designated replacement technology: heat pumps in buildings.
New research published today in Building Research & Information, “Residential heat pump installations: the role of vocational education and training”, examines the skills and knowledge needed for installing and maintaining heat pumps. The author, Dr Colin Gleeson of the University of Westminster, identifies the lack of broader educational content and deficiencies in engineering knowledge. This will have detrimental consequences on both the actual performance and market acceptance of heat pumps.
The UK aims to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2020 as part of its climate and energy goals and 2.5 – 4 million heat pumps by 2030 if it is to fulfil its climate commitment. However Dr Gleeson’s research explains the relatively low performance of UK heat pumps, when compared to continental Europe.
A Microgeneration Scheme, supported by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has produced technical guidance and initial training workshops to kick-start the training process. However, the UK domestic heating industry has yet to embrace this and implement requirements for installers.
Dr Gleeson remarked: “Field trial results indicate a failure in the design and installation of heat pump systems, this is linked to the lack of appropriate knowledge, skills and competence for creating optimum performance.
“Few UK installers have formal heat pump qualifications at NVQ [National Vocational Qualifications] level 3. Heat pump vocational education and training is generally offered through short-courses with no strict adherence to a common syllabus or a detailed training centre specification.”
Professor Tadj Oreszczyn of University College London comments on the significance of this research: “Heat pumps can play an important role in the UK reducing its carbon emissions. However, this paper demonstrates that this is only likely to happen in practice if the UK improves its skills and training of heat pump installers. Historically domestic heating installers have required less skills due to the robust nature of ‘combi’ boiler performance. Heat pumps will need to reverse this trend.”Peter Hansford, government chief construction advisor said: “Heat pumps are an important means of reducing carbon emissions from heating in buildings and in helping to meet the UK’s energy efficiency targets. This is why urgent action is needed to overcome the skills deficiency that is holding back the installation of heat pumps. I urge the industry to address ways in which these skills can be developed.”
More emphasis is needed to support the acquisition of knowledge, training and skills. A comprehensive revision of vocational education and training has implications for all construction occupations and the wider debate on the energy performance gap.
 Committee on Climate Change (2013 ) Fourth Carbon Budget Review – part 2: The cost-effective path to the 2050 budget. page 30: “The key option for supply-side decarbonisation in our scenario was deployment of heat pumps. These reached a penetration rate of 25% of heat demand in the residential sector, and around 60% in the non-residential sector by 2030.” https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/1785a-CCC_AdviceRep_Spreads_1.pdf
 Committee on Climate Change (2013 ) Fourth Carbon Budget Review – Technical Report. Chapter 3: Reducing energy from buildings. page 74. https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/1785b-CCC_TechRep_Singles_Chap3_1.pdf
 Zero Carbon Hub (2014) Closing the Gap Between Design and As-built Performance: End of Term Report.