How installers are the key to deliver renewables, energy efficient solutions and decarbonisation

Nathan van Gambling from BetaTeach hosted an episode of his award-winning BetaTalk podcast from InstallerPLAZA at InstallerSHOW. He, and a panel of experts, discussed the development of the heat pump sector, the issues that need to be solved and how installers can get involved.

His three guests on the podcast were: Lisa-Jayne Cook, a Refrigeration Engineer and Institute of Refrigeration (IOR) board member; Steve Webster, from renewables specialist EGE Energy and Si Posket from C. Brookes Plumbing and Heating.

Nathan asked about how they see the industry now and how it has developed in recent years. Steve who has been involved in renewables for 16 years, said that in the past there was very little information and good systems were not always easy to find. However, things have changed rapidly in recent years. Steve commented: “There is a lot of interest [now]. The industry is changing fast. Lots of new equipment coming through. It’s quite an exciting time to be in this industry.”

Nathan noted that some local authorities are embracing new technology more than others. Simon, who is based near Bristol, explained that there seems to be a real drive in Bristol, with the City Council doing a lot in terms of planning regulations to make installations easier.

However, Steve noted that this is not the case in some areas, where planning rules can be a barrier. He explained that on a recent project, permission for rooftop PVT (Photovoltaic Thermal) panels was denied due to issues with the skyline, despite neighbouring houses being taller. He thinks it is a lack of knowledge that can cause these issues. Si agreed, stating that he believes planning may be about 10 years behind where the technology is currently.

Lisa-Jayne echoed this saying that in the commercial sector, planning conditions are often strict. She also highlighted how important collaboration is on projects. She has seen that building heating and cooling is sometimes an afterthought and that a lack of understanding can lead to design decisions that increase noise and energy-usage levels.

Next Nathan raised the issue of cost, especially for heat pumps, and highlighted that it is not the cost of the equipment but the installation. This is due to the additional work required for site surveys, design and calculations. Steve said that he thinks customers are beginning to understand the value of expertise, but the wider public does not see where the cost comes from and can’t understand why heat pumps are much more expensive than gas boilers.

One of the most important issues in the industry is getting more installers trained in heat pump installation. Nathan asked the panel what advice they would give to those looking to expand into this area. Steve suggested that the best approach would be to work with those already involved with heat pumps and renewables. Lisa-Jayne agreed that partnering with experienced installers is a good approach, pointing out that there is plenty of work for everyone with 600,000 heat pump installations required in the coming years. They also suggested that working with manufacturers is important as many offer training and that installers should make the most of these opportunities.

Next the discussion turned to bringing new people into the industry. Lisa-Jayne said that the number of women in the sector has been steadily increasing. She highlighted that while women were often interested in the sector, they had not always been made to feel welcome. 

In addition, Lisa-Jayne noted that it is in the best interest of the industry to bring more people in. She said: “It has been widely acknowledged for a long time that innovation is driven by diversity, so we are not just talking about women, we are talking about ethnic minorities, we’re talking about different sexual orientations and even different social backgrounds.”

Lisa-Jayne also suggested that one of the most important factors in addressing the serious skill gap is to become more inclusive as an industry and ensure we are not missing talented individuals. “We have to build an environment where people feel welcome.”

Next, Nathan asked the panel if the equipment has developed in recent years and about the view that costs may begin to reduce. Steve said that although heat pump technology itself is not new, there have been, and continue to be, significant and rapid advances. He also expressed a view that regulation and standards need to keep up with the development of the technology to ensure adoption is not held back.

Finally, turning to the challenges faced by the industry, Nathan asked the panel for their view on the most important factors moving forward. Si said that getting the design right is essential. This includes correct calculations, installation and commissioning to ensure performance and efficiency. He added that technical resources are invaluable to assist installers in getting the sizing and calculations right.

Steve echoed this by stating that a change in approach was needed. Modern boilers have been made so easy to install that smaller issues are not a problem, which is not the case with a heat pump, where precision is necessary. He also highlighted the importance of being familiar with different manufacturers’ products as this allows the best product to be selected for a given application.

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