“If you’re able to fit a boiler, then you’ll be able to fit a heat pump” – Opinion

Alpha has extended its renewables team with the appointment of Garry Mills as renewable product specialist. Installer spoke to Garry about his background, the current state of the renewables industry, and what is on offer for heating engineers.

Q: What was your journey into renewables?

Garry: My background is working primarily as a gas engineer for 13 years, but in the last five or six years I’ve completely dedicated myself towards the renewable side, working on heat pumps. I did an apprenticeship with my dad and all my family are gas engineers as well. I went off to work for British Gas for a while, and was then installing heating pumps with another large company. Then I ended up working for myself full time, subcontracting to other companies to fit heat pumps. I really like working with heat pump technology, if I’m honest, I got a bit bored of gas but like I said, my Dad and my Granddad are old-school gas engineers. They’re not going to need to work with renewables but for me, and my generation it’s a rapidly growing market. Having lived it, it means when we talk to heating engineers I can explain how I made the transition from gas, because it’s a skillset that every heating engineer has.

Q: What work does your new role at Alpha cover?

Garry: I’m Renewable Product Specialist, so primarily I’m involved in training which I’m really enjoying because there are a lot of engineers who think there’s some sort of magic behind heat pumps. There’s a perception that there’s more involved in an install than there really is. It is literally a case of, if you’re a Gas Safe Engineer and you’re able to fit a boiler, then you’ll be able to fit a heat pump. When you actually look at what’s involved in it, there’s two pipe connections on the back of it and then a few cable connections as well. Me going out and explaining this, and being able to say, I’ve been where you are and this is how I did it, really helps. They can also see that I’m competent with wiring and plumbing and everything, and not just reading to them out of a book.

Q: What technology does Alpha offer?

Garry: We’ve got three different offerings in terms of our heat pumps. The E-Tec Hybrid range, which is a  boiler and a heat pump. Then we have Hydro, which is a mixture of a heat pump and a pre-plumbed cylinder and that’s a full air source heat pump unit. And on top of that, we’ve got the Magis M, which is what we call a system boiler version of the heat pump world. So essentially it’s more commercial, but we do it in domestic applications as well. 

Q: There’s a lot of talk in the industry about hybrid heat pumps, even though it’s not currently considered under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, do they have a role in UK homes?

Garry: I think they should be considered for BUS, in Scotland you can get funding for a hybrid system already, so we should adopt it for the rest of the UK. With our system, you input the tariffs of both your gas and electric. The system looks at the Coefficients of Performance (COPs) of both the heat pump and the boiler, and it’ll use that data plus the outside temperature, and figure out which is the cheapest appliance to run at that time. So no matter whether you’ve got a gas boiler in there before or a heat pump in there before, it’s always going to be the cheapest option because you’ve got the two together and it’s picking the best one to run. 

That, as well as the installation cost can be £5,000-£6,000 in comparison to a heat pump, which can be £15,000-£20,000, is very attractive. You don’t have to worry about radiators or any of your pipework size and it will literally retrofit onto any system, even if they don’t have an airing cupboard. It’s a great product and the industry has changed so much it needed a product like this to retrofit into all the different types of houses that we have in the UK. You think about these terrace properties where it can be a challenge to find somewhere to put a heat pump and the cylinder, are people just going to stick with their gas boiler? I think now that we’ve introduced this into the market, if the government actually took it on board, it would reduce carbon massively in the UK. These properties could save up to 60% on gas and start to get homeowners and installers used to heat pump technology, with the safety net of the boiler that they know and are used to.

Q: What’s your advice for Installers looking to get into heat pumps?

Garry: Talk to us, book onto a training course, but honestly, go for it. Like I said, it’s not magic and existing heating engineers can definitely do it. Heat pumps have been used for years in some seriously cold countries like Scandinavia, and air con has been used in some seriously hot countries, so we know the systems work. We’re here to support you, when you fit your first one, we can even come to site to help you make sure everything is set up and commissioned properly. Any questions throughout the whole process, just get in touch and we’ll help you out. We’re here to make it as easy as possible for installers to thrive in this exciting market.

Find out more about Alpha, it’s products and offering at: www.alpha-innovation.co.uk