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A slow burner

Since I joined the industry, prophets have been predicting that ‘this year will be the one where heat pumps finally break through’. These prophets will have to be right at some time, so I will stick my neck out and say that 2013 will be the Year of the Heat Pump.

Of course I am judging that if I’m right I will have bragging rights and if I’m wrong none of you will remember this anyway.

Hang on a minute, you staunch heat pump champions, don’t start writing your angry emails yet. Hear me out.

Big but not dominant

I know heat pumps have made huge strides in recent years, and few people would even consider installing a cooling-only air conditioner these days. I also know that, largely due to government incentives, many commercial organisations have moved over to heat pumps as their sole form of heating.

Heat pumps are going strong. But the question is, why are they not sweeping all before them?

With air to air, ground source, air to water and underfloor heating, they can fill every heating niche in a modern building in a more environmental and cost-effective way than any other heating source. With the price of fossil fuels getting ever higher, heat pumps should be sweeping all before them and be the heating source of choice for every new development. But let’s face it, they are not.

Why not? I don’t know, but I do have a theory.

Most builders and end users are familiar with radiators and understand them. They were brought up with gas, oil and electrical central heating systems, when electricity was the least efficient and most expensive. When you start talking about an electrically powered system that can heat air and water, that is considered renewable and produces more heat energy than the electrical energy you put in, some of them still look at you as if you were talking witchcraft.

Yes, of course I am exaggerating, but you know as well as I do that when you chat to people outside the industry in a social situation, all sorts of topics come up: the best cars, the best route from A to B and, increasingly, the rising price of domestic energy. Many will offer opinions about combination boilers, solar power, wind turbines, wood burning stoves, and so on. But when you, with your expert knowledge, join in and start talking about heat pumps, usually you will find you are the only one speaking.

We seem to have got the heat pump message across to the architects, building specifiers and facilities managers, assisted in no small part by the capital allowances and Renewable Heat Incentive.

But what we have not done yet is fire the general public with heat pump enthusiasm. Until we do that we will not make the final breakthrough, as, at  the end of the day, builders will provide what the general public demands – and they demand what they understand.

Julian Brunnock is sales and marketing director of FG Eurofred, the face of Fujitsu in the UK

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