Insights

Heat pumps will only take off when engineers are put front and centre

Insights

Heat pumps will only take off when engineers are put front and centre

Post

21 Jun 2024

Heat pumps

Share

Engineers are key

It’s no secret that the UK’s heat pump rollout isn’t going quickly enough. The government’s ambition for 600,000 installations a year by 2028 feels increasingly out of reach without pretty major changes. There are clearly a number of reasons for this – the UK’s dubious accolade of having the highest spark gap in Europe, a concerted anti-heat pump campaign by certain elements of the press, and our historic reliance on oversized boilers and small radiators to heat leaky buildings. 

The ~8000 current heat pump engineers in the UK are absolutely key if we are going to turn this around.  There is simply no way to significantly scale the number of installations without their skills and experience, yet the challenges they face have been largely overlooked. 

Long hours and lots of admin

Running a heat pump installation business is hard. Engineers often work long hours, including evenings and weekends, to fit in all the admin around long days on site making sure the job gets done well. But despite the huge amount of time invested, many installers struggle to make a significant profit at the end of the day. 

This really matters. As well as making life difficult for installers, it hampers their ability to hire and train new engineers (something we desperately need them to do) and reduces the time they can spend on marketing and growing their business. On top of this, the prospect of a high admin burden and low profit is putting off swathes of potential heat pump engineers, many of whom currently have a much easier time installing gas boilers.

Focus on what engineers need

Prioritising the needs of heat pump engineers is vital if we’re serious about hitting 600,000 heat pump installations a year in any meaningful timeframe. Thankfully there’s a lot that can be done. 

When speaking with installers, we continually hear the same set of issues. Too much time is lost dealing with potential customers who reach out for information or quotes but ultimately do not proceed with the installation. Our analysis indicates that installers around the UK are on average spending 2 hours dealing with each enquiry, but only convert 10% of these into paid work. That equates to 20 hours dealing with enquiries for every job that goes ahead.

On top of this, the process for collecting all the necessary property information remains time-consuming, particularly when much of the data then needs to be copied into 2 or 3 other systems to complete the design, create a quote, and produce an MCS-compliant proposal for the homeowner.

Piles of paperwork

And then there’s the paperwork. So much paperwork! There’s the DNO application or notification, BUS voucher application, handover pack, MCS certificate, and building compliance certificates. Each of these require the installer to repeatedly dig up and manually enter a similar set of information. 

While there are several software solutions that seek to help a single step in the process, none are holistic. Engineers still need to manually transfer data between different systems which adds no value, leads to unnecessary errors, and is a waste of their time. What's needed is an integrated, end-to-end software solution that covers everything from initial customer enquiry through to final installation and commissioning. This is what we’re building with Spruce.

We think data should be entered once, ideally automatically, and then flow through to all the necessary forms, reports, and compliance documents, without the need for manual intervention. We also think software should enable engineers to leverage their expertise, not force them through a blinkered, box ticking process. With less time spent on mind-numbing admin, engineers can spend time designing the optimum system for the home and customer’s needs.

Other changes that could help

But software alone won't solve all the challenges faced by heat pump installers. Reducing the overall paperwork burden by streamlining and standardising compliance requirements would be a major step forward. This could involve consolidating the various forms and documents required for MCS certification, Building Regulations compliance, and DNO notifications into a single, simplified process. Even just aligning the process for submitting data to each of the DNOs would be a good start!

Another way to support heat pump installers and improve the quality of boiler installations would be to enforce Part L of the Building Regulations more stringently for gas boiler installs. This would reduce oversizing of systems, give homeowners more information about their properties, and help them begin the journey towards low temperature heating. It might even encourage more installers to consider transitioning to heat pumps, as the difference in compliance requirements wouldn’t be such a leap.

Finally, addressing the underlying issue of the spark gap is crucial for making heat pumps more financially attractive for both installers and homeowners. Bringing the relative costs of electricity and gas more in line with the rest of Europe could make heat pumps a financial no brainer, taking them beyond carbon-conscious early adopters and bringing them into the mainstream.The energy companies seem to be starting to address this with a number of special heat pump tariffs, the best of which is OVO’s 15p/kWh, but there’s still a long way to go.

Conclusion

The UK's heat pump rollout is at a critical juncture. By putting the needs of heat pump engineers at the heart of the UK’s strategy and addressing the technological, regulatory and financial challenges they face, we can create a more supportive environment and dramatically accelerate heat pump installations. 

If you’re interested to learn more about what we’re building – or simply want to share your experiences, please reach out to us on hello@spruce.eco. We’d love to hear from you.

(This article first appeared in the May/June edition of Heat Pumps Today.)

21 Jun 2024

Heat pumps

Post

21 Jun 2024

Heat pumps

Share

On this page

Engineers are key
Long hours and lots of admin
Focus on what engineers need
Piles of paperwork
Other changes that could help

Sign up to our newsletter for occasional product updates & helpful content

©️ Spruce Energy Ltd, 2024.

Sign up to our newsletter for occasional product updates & helpful content

©️ Spruce Energy Ltd, 2024.