Opinion: “We need to end our dependence on gas to heat our homes”

At the opening of the new HPIN training academy, Installer caught up with Philippe Commaret (left in the image above), Managing Director for Customers at EDF Energy, to talk about the progress so far on the rollout of heat pumps.

Q: What do you think needs to happen to get more installers interested in becoming trained to work with heat pumps?

I believe that it has to become a customer-driven choice. So, the more the customers are aware of how efficient a heat pump is, what the benefits are, especially the cost benefits, the better it will be. When you take a gas boiler, it requires the same amount of energy that it consumes to produce heat, whereas a heat pump – thanks to the fact that it is grabbing the heat from the air outside of the house – requires only a third of the energy, so it’s extremely efficient.

Heat pumps have an efficiency rating of over 300% compared to traditional gas boilers, and a potential working life of up to 20 years, which is far longer than a traditional boiler. They can enable households to cut CO2 emissions associated with heating by more than 23 tonnes over 10 years.

Ideally we need customers to become more confident that this solution will provide the same level of comfort and that’s why we also need to invest in insulation. Because if their homes are not well insulated, you need more heat to be produced and you are going to pay more for your energy. So it’s a win-win solution to have better insulation in a home as well as a heat pump.

It will take some time, so we need to be patient that more and more customers will be bold enough to take the decisions to invest. We also need installers to offer a great customer experience, as well as the right incentives and support from government to support homeowners.

Q: So when the general public are more aware of heat pumps, will they drive demand by asking their gas engineer for a heat pump?

I’m absolutely convinced about that. Heat pumps are still in their infancy in the UK compared to Europe, where they have been adopted by so many people. We need to end our dependence on gas to heat our homes in the UK and adopting heat pumps is can be an important step, helping us on the road to achieve net zero and bringing household energy bills for the longer term.

I also believe we need installers to be confident enough to advocate for a heat pump. So it has to become, from an installer’s point of view, a better solution. Easy to install, less maintenance, less hassle – then it’s more valuable for the installers and they will advocate for heat pumps when customers ask for advice.

I’m very, very proud that installers will be coming to this academy that EDF has supported to be trained. I don’t think it’s easy for someone who has been doing that job for many years to think they want to do something different, so those people who are investing time to be trained to fit heat pumps, that is really something that should be praised. 

Q: What about the other technologies EDF is investing in, such as EV charge points, is there a similar demand for installers?

We are working to support the rollout of smart meters across the UK by repurposing some of our engineers to help install them. In terms of EV charging, the UK needs to install 30 million charge points by 2030. That’s huge and it requires training and repurposing people to create things at scale, which is exactly the same case as heat pumps. If we want to add 600,000 heat pumps being installed per year by 2028, that’s massive and we need to train a lot of people.

One installer will do 50 to 70 pumps a year if they are just focusing on only that and working really hard. We need tens of thousands – there are over 100,000 installers working on gas that need to shifted over to working on heat pumps. That’s why I’m immensely proud of to be supporting the work being done here at CB Heating.

Q: So are you confident that we will meet the 600,000 a year goal?

I think the first goal of around 300,000 heat pumps installed, is pretty easy thanks to the government policy, which bans fossil fuel-burning boilers in new build houses. This will create a critical mass and take care of  half of the challenge before we even count retrofits.

When you look at France, it has taken a very significant amount of time to achieve 600,000 installs. It has required a lot of change in regulation and a lot of conviction, as well as a lot of training – just the same as in the UK.

I think that the UK can learn from what has happened in other countries to be faster though. In France it has taken 10 to 15 years to be able to achieve these targets, so I think the UK can benefit from this knowledge elsewhere across Europe. I’m confident for 2030.

EDF, CB Heating and Daikin are calling on plumbers, engineers, electricians and apprentices to enrol in the new HPIN Heat Pump Training Academy and become qualified heat pump installers. Find out more at: hpin.co.uk