How does the cooling industry capitalise on the huge potential of heat pump technology? RAC convened a Round Table to find some answers
What do delegates think of the real potential for this technology?
Deane Flint It is an exciting opportunity. At long last end-users have got a genuine scaleable heat pump technology available to them. We shouldn’t forget that the air conditioning industry is still a significant industry in its own right and it isn’t going to go away. There are still a vast amount of buildings that don’t have cooling. But heat pumps give us an opportunity to take a technology that we use on a daily basis and to apply it to another sector.
Garry Broadbent Our heat pump division started 18 months ago, but the industry has changed significantly in the last 18 months alone. It started with ground source heat pumps but now there are plenty of good air source heat pumps. It is either going to be a Klondike or there are going to be tears. It is a big thing for the
cooling industry and for the heating industry, but into that you’ve got to add renewable startup companies who haven’t had experience of either side.
Mike Nankivell There is a lot of potential in the domestic market - but it’s potential for disaster as well as potential for success.
Garry Broadbent The profile of companies coming to our courses has been 80 per cent heating engineers, 15 per cent air conditioning and 5 per cent renewables start-ups. It appears that the heating industry has more desire to get involved with the heat pump product than the traditional air conditioning industry. Is that because they have more need to because air con has a buoyant industry with steady work?
Tony Gittings If we are looking at domestic heating, it is a completely different customer base to what ac installers are used to dealing with, so maybe we should be talking to the boiler manufacturers. They should be looked at completely separately.
Garry Broadbent We could all invest thousands in developing a very efficient heat pump, but is it being applied in an efficient manner? It’s educating the installer as heating engineers are not used to weather compensated performance - they’ve got issues with hot water cylinders and radiator sizes to consider. The typical heating engineer is used to boilers and copper pipe, they aren’t backward in any way, it’s just a different discipline. If we can support them with respect to the refrigeration side, there is no reason why that can’t become profitable for all involved.
What are the implications of this potential for cooling firms?
John Ellis We’ve got a lot of engineers in the ac sector who don’t have a clue how an air conditioning system works - many are fi tters who don’t know anything about say using nitrogen for testing. Now we are seeing the heating people who are used to having the qualifications and the standards - and they are going to grabthis opportunity. They are generally the thrusting ones, whereas the ac industry is largely very unskilled and very untrained, unqualified pipefitters.
Deane Flint In my experience heating engineers are very keen and they are very happy with radiators, but they won’t touch anything to do with electronics and often they won’t touch electrical either. The ac engineers are used to shoving bits of cable in both ends of the box - they may not necessarily know what it does - theplumbers don’t do wiring. The sparky won’t do it all either. At the moment, maybe the best person is the ac engineer, but they often have no feel for the water. They know how to get it into the wall at the top but those crazy 22 mm pipes are something else altogether. I think it’s because “you are not plumbers, you are superior”has been drilled into them since college. So maybe we do need someone new altogether.
Garry Broadbent I don’t think that is true for all heating engineers - the good guys will do electrics. But what you have is different layers. The plumber who may do boiler installs is not the level we should be looking at. We are getting engineers for our heat pump training who are coming because they are aware of the technology, and so these are the sort of people we need to bring on. If you get the good guys, give them the right information, make the product simple and give them the right bits and pieces to go with it, they can do it. But we should remember that there is no one size fits all. It depends on application, and you need to have a range of products. We stock seven ranges as an example - there is a limit to what you can put on a commercial property for instance, there is a limit to what you can put on a retrofit. Some of the guys who are bringing in containers from the Far East don’t understand the concept of quality standards. So it’s not just educating the installer, it’s those who are bringing crap in too.
Mike Nankivell The Microgeneration Certification Scheme is designed to set minimum standards for the product and for the competence of the heat pump installer.
But at a meeting with DECC recently, we were warned it might struggle to be fit for purpose, because the advent of the Renewable Heat Incentive and the push towards mass deployment of heat pumps in the residential sector means that there wouldn’t be enough MCS-certified installers to support the products. We are actually a long way from being fully competent on the very successful commercial side of heat pumps, so the mass deployment needed for residential should worry us. You’ve got to support the market in the way the Gas Safe/Corgi model supported heating and we are seriously in danger of messing this up if we don’t get thinfrastructure right. That is exactly what happened 20 or 30 years ago in continental Europe, where it was heavily incentivised and massively applied to the market. But it fell flat in four years because the confidence wasn’t there in the product.
Graham Wright At Ecobuild, we saw a GSHP manufacturer claiming a CoP of 5. We all know that’s achievable but it doesn’t actually turn up in people’s houses. What is absolutely key for us is to make sure the equipment performs to capacity once it is installed. On a number of sites I have been to, the installation doesn’t achieve what has been claimed for it. This is what is happening: the installer knows he needs a CoP of 2-2.5 to make it work, to save energy. What happens is he looks in the catalogue and sees a CoP of 4 and thinks it’s quite straightforward. But when it comes to using it, it is only actually at 1.7 or so and that it only the equivalent of natural gas, it’s not good enough.
Deane Flint But heating people don’t even think in terms of CoPs - for domestic heating they are used to just going into a merchant, and saying: “I want a combi.”
But for the social housing clients and the ALMOs, they are actually well installed and doing a good job, because we, the manufacturer, is working closely with the supply chain. But the problem is we are dealing with the general public on domestic.
Should we be calling for a new industry heat pump standard, or is it covered by the MCS?
Mike Nankivell To qualify the comment, it was the number that was the concern, not the process itself. We need to encourage more engineers to take the MCS or create something else. It will take two or three days to understand the technology of heat pumps in order to support the products. The concern is providing that volume of support - the numbers being talked about are 1.7 million renewable installations in seven years.
John Ellis It is not just heat pump support, because if that problem occurs is to do with refrigerant supply for instance, the average ac installer isn’t going to understand what the problem is. The manufacturer is going to need that technical support at the end of the phone - the problem these days is engineers think a call can sort it out, rather than trying to fix it themselves. I think we underestimate the core levels of understanding of ac installers at our peril- they will need four or five days to get through the F-Gas course, for instance.
Tony Gittings The suppliers will have to take more responsibility, because we are talking about retrofitting into domestic housing, if a system has been designed for a specific water temperature, the radiators have been designed that way, with a heat transfer capability for that temperature. If they don’t understand that, they are
mis-selling it. It doesn’t matter how good the installation, it is not going to work properly. When we talk about education we have got to go back a further step up the supply chain.
Garry Broadbent It’s a huge opportunity we need to embrace with as much speed and vigour as we can. Let’s gear up and provide that support. People come on to these training courses for one reason - profit. If we can make it easy for them to do that, they should be able to capitalise on that retrofit market.
John Ellis We need to consider training standards too. There is a qualification within the new NVQ structure for mechanical engineering services for heat pumps, which is within the heating section not the air conditioning section. We need to make sure that the ac side gets a chance to comment too.
Will the Renewable Heat Incentive spur the take-up of heat pumps?
Mike Nankivell I think the Heat Pump Association are very pleased at the advent of the RHI as it almost justifies the amount of investment in the products, and they are very pleased at the take up so far of the MCS, but we are on the edge of a transformation of that market.
Garry Broadbent We have to create an appetite among the installer base to create the infrastructure to make this work. They need to realise that they need to get their MCS act together, that they should work with credible manufacturers. They need to treat this for what it is: probably the single biggest opportunity for this
industry in their working life. Even if it comes out as a ‘detuned’ RHI, at the end of the consultation it will be something to work with. I was talking with someone who had recently had a ground source unit installed. He was already happy with the £300-£350 a year saving in oil he would make. But when I told him about the RHI he almost fell off the kitchen chair because he would be another £1,000 better off on top of the oil saving. So effectively he is going to be getting his heating free for the
next x number of years.
Deane Flint The fact is, with RHI and feed-in tariffs, if you put six solar panels on your roof and you put in an 8 or 9 kW air sourc heat pump, that will probably save you £22,000 over five years. That’s the real inducement to heat pumps.
Mike Nankivell I am worried that schemes such as the RHI won’t encourage the cooling aspect though. There is a small danger that the commercial sector will be
persuaded to go back to heating-only systems, when the one reason that heat pumps have been so successful is that they are the one technology that offers both heating and cooling, and you don’t get the two systems fighting each other. There are many commercial buildings where you find the radiators red hot and the cassette in the ceiling desperately trying to bring the temperature down.
Deane Flint The RHI doesn’t offer as much incentive for those in the 45-300 kW bracket either - two and a half pence - and that’s because most of those units are sold with cooling too, and the provision of cooling is seen by many as bad. We need to lobby that that bracket is given a proper incentive, so that heating and cooling heat pumps are seen as a viable alternative to the biomass boiler.
Mike Nankivell There will be buildings that don’t need cooling, but the figure of 40 per cent of UK commercial buildings that currently have air conditioning is still pretty low.
Are the opportunities for commercial application as exciting as domestic?
Garry Broadbent An awful lot of heat is being wasted by industry. I was at a chemical company recently where 2 MW an hour was being discharged into an estuary at 35 degrees. There are heat recovery opportunities on many sites. If you take your average hospital, for example, that is running cooling towers and fuel boilers in parallel, it is quite easy to use a water source heat recovery unit to tap into the cooling tower. That’s the dialogue we should be having, as it’s not about dedicated cooling - its converting waste heat to high grade heat for use on site.
Deane Flint The trouble is that heat recovery is a fantastic solution, but how many people are genuinely capable of applying a bona fide heat recovery application, of a full design solution and more importantly capable of operating one once it’s running?
Graham Wright On that kind of project, it isn’t the capability of the engineer that it crucial, it is the knowledge of the consultant.
Steve Gill The opportunity is to talk to the client’s team at the design stage. Unless you integrate at that point, you immediately have the boiler on one hand and cooling on the other. Building services engineers and consultants are often very traditional in their approach.
Does the consultant sector really appreciate the technology of heat pumps?
Garry Broadbent The knowledge about heat pumps is often very low too. They either have a historical view of the technology, thinking they have a very low CoP, or
someone has hit them with a huge quote for a ground source heat pump.
Graham Hendra One of the biggest problems we have got is: how do you explain how a heat pump works in two sentences, without giving them a bit of fridge theory? I had somebody ask me whether installing a heat pump would change the climate of his garden.
Mike Nankivell I actually had a consultant ask me how a heat pump can heat with cold air the other day.
Graham Hendra When VRV first came in, there was a similar view that it was too complicated for it to take off. There is a similarity with heat pumps in that with the
conventional boiler you just come in and stick a box on the wall, whereas with the heat pump there is a lot of maths, and if you set it up wrong it won’t work properly.
If I were a plumber I would understand the reluctance - but you just have to look at VRV now, to see how the industry can overcome this in time.
Graham Wright We need to change perceptions throughout construction - you look at Part L of the Building Regulations, it is all about chillers and boilers, not about VRF and VRV.
Deane Flint The heat guys all have a relationship with the merchants, and they have a catalogue with six or seven heat pumps in. It tells you what the kilowattage is, based on what the manufacturer has said, not on application, and it tells you how much it is. That’s the end of the conversation. If you are going to have the wrong reputation for heat pumps, that’s how you will get it. That’s why our approach needs to be top-down, starting with the housebuilders, housing associations etc, then going onto the consultants and their supply chain, which is where the majority of the activity in air source heat pumps is going to be over the next few years.
Are there other opportunities to consider?
Garry Broadbent Let’s not forget the three or four million oil burners in the UK. There are practical tangible savings over a biomass boiler too: minimal maintenance and it will work at part load, unlike a boiler, which is only efficient running balls-out. We need to spread the net wider than just air-to-air heat pumps. There is huge potential fitting air-to-water heat pumps in commercial property - and nobody’s really there yet.
Graham Hendra Can I make a controversial point? If I was a boiler manufacturer I would be asking about the electricity supply with heat pumps.
Garry Broadbent We have had some power supply problems on some of the sites, but you can get round that with transformerdriven models.
Mike Nankivell I heard a guy from the National Grid recently, which warned that the network would not be able to cope with the mass deployment of electric heat pumps. Local networks here are already charging very high fees to substations.
What one thing should we as an industry do to capitalise on this opportunity?
Graham Wright We have a great challenge, which if we handle it correctly will be a very big business and a market of 500,000 units. If we don’t get it right, it could be 10 years before we get another chance. Last time we didn’t grasp the nettle properly.
Steve Gill There needs to be some education of the faultfinders in a domestic setting. On the commercial and industrial side, advising the consultants of the need to integrate into the design in the early stages is critical.
John Ellis I think we need a lead body to coordinate a holistic approach because on every level there’s a need for information. With the F-Gas legislation, Defra set up F-Gas Support to answer queries from industry, we need something like that so there is a consistent message. In the past we have suffered horrendously from a piecemeal approach because of all our bodies are volunteer bodies. Surely the government ought to be in a position to fund a consultancy-type body. We really want heat pump engineers as opposed to heating or ac engineers. In the US, they have HVAC engineers, which covers it all.
Deane Flint For the commercial sector it’s re-do - we’ve already managed to sell refrigerationbased air conditioning pretty well, so we need to demonstrate our capability and our scaleability to the parts of the construction industry we work with and to show that we the “heat pump people” have the solution. For the domestic sector, it’s “advise, inform, educate” from the top down.
Garry Broadbent Retrofit is the key driver and we need to decide how far we go down the route of training. MCS needs to be taken seriously by the installer base, as
not enough have gone in for it so far. We need to make it easy for these guys.
Graham Hendra The domestic heat pump market offers an opportunity we haven’t seen in the past 20 years but we need to simplify everything if we are to succeed.
Tony Gittings For me, residential is the prize - the technology is proven and the product is viable, but we need to overcome the perceived resistance from the market, by training. But how many air conditioning installers know about the domestic setting? You need to look at the heating boys and forward-thinking distributors to set up a separate supply grid for heat pumps. Mr and Mrs Miggins want to spend so much money, with little maintenance and if it goes wrong theywant to be able to call someone in. We need to implement the right infrastructure to get it to market. It’s a fundamental difference in supply route.
Mike Nankivell It’s provision of reliable information. We as an industry haven’t done a very good job persuading the cynics that they are living with an out-of-date viewpoint on heat pumps. We mustn’t forget that we are talking about two distinct markets. The commercial market’s potential mustn’t be damaged by the perception that it is heating only. The residential sector offers great potential, but we as suppliers have a huge opportunity and we do need a lead body to guide it.
And we really need the next government to find the resources to back it.