The Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) – which opened today – will not be enough to ensure the UK reaches the government’s heat pump installation target, with the early announcement of a ban on new gas boilers imperative.
According to new modelling from the Centre for Net Zero (CNZ) there is a gap between the current trajectory of rolling out heat pumps, and that required to hit the 600,000 installations a year target announced in the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
The BUS offers £5,000 off the cost and installation of an air source heat pump, £5,000 off the cost and installation of a biomass boiler and £6,000 off the cost and installation of a ground source heat pump. It was first announced in the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy in October 2021.
It follows on from the Green Homes Grant, which similarly offered financial support for households looking to transition to a heat pump but was beset by problems and shuttered early, drawing broad criticism.
However, the CNZ found that while positive, the BUS is not enough on its own to generate the uptake needed to reach the government’s rollout targets. And while it will lead to an uptick in installations over its lifespan, once the scheme closes installations will likely fall to below where they are today.
The most influential factor for reaching the target was found to be a ban on the installation of new gas boilers by 2025. This would see more households make the transition to a heat pump following either the breakdown of their boiler or during renovations.
Additionally, the amount of time between the announcement of a ban and its implementation also has a significant impact on the uptake of heat pumps. Halving the timeframe from ten years – announcing it in 2025 and taking effect from 2035 – to five (2030-35) for example, changes the number of heat pumps installed by 2028 by as much as 63%.
Beyond a ban, awareness of heat pumps will be pivotal to achieving a rollout at scale, with a need for ‘myth-busting’ and consumer awareness campaigns.
Combined, the BUS, an early ban on gas boilers and a public awareness campaign would allow demand to reach 600,000 heat pumps by 2028, however challenges remain around installer capacity in the UK.
Should demand grow to this target, 30,000-35,000 installers will be needed by 2028, a tenfold increase on the estimated 2,800 heat pump installers working today. However, it is only a quarter of the total number of gas boiler installers currently active.
Additional findings in the research include that shifting policy costs across gas and electricity doesn’t have as significant an impact as the factors mentioned above. The government announced its intention to issue a call to evidence on shifting levies away from electricity to gas last year, following a collection of utilities calling for changes to what they said were "outdated" gas and electricity levies to decrease costs of electrified heating, suggesting it could save the poorest households more than £100 a year.
Finally, the CNZ found that improving the ease of heat pump installation when a boiler has broken down drastically increases uptake.
“Our research findings are striking, and show clear and actionable paths for government. It should be possible to hit and even exceed the government’s 2028 target for heat pump installations, but only if the right actions are taken, and quickly enough,” said Lucy Yu, CEO of CNZ.
“At a time when governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce their dependence on imported natural gas, the move to fossil-fuel alternatives to heat our homes is more important than ever. Whilst our modelling is based on UK data, we know that similar barriers to heat pump uptake exist elsewhere and so our findings have important implications for governments in European countries and beyond.”
Domestic heating emissions currently account for 16% of the UK’s total, and approximately 35% of its total energy consumption.
Following the increase in wholesale gas prices, and concern around the impact on energy security caused by the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the need to switch to electrified solutions has been thrown into even sharper focus. A third of Britons are now considering installing a heat pump in an effort to get off Russian gas, according to a study earlier this year.