drastic shortage of heat pump installers threatens johnson's green push
© Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg Heat pump – Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

A severe shortage of plumbers to fit millions of homes with eco-friendly heat pumps risks derailing Boris Johnson’s green revolution, industry chiefs have warned.

An estimated 60,000 workers will be needed to install the devices by 2028, according to the Heat Pump Association, but only 1,800 people currently have the right training.

House builders will be banned from installing gas boilers in four years’ time, forcing them to use heat pumps instead on as many as 300,000 homes annually.

Neil Jefferson, managing director at the Home Builders’ Federation, said: “Heat pumps are an important technology for new build homes, but there are significant challenges to overcome, mainly relating to the need to grow installation.

“The number of heat pumps currently being installed is dwarfed by the number of homes constructed annually, so a huge uplift in capacity is required.”

It came as Mr Johnson vowed to “unleash the unique creative power of capitalism to drive the innovation that will bring down the costs of going green” in a pitch to the world’s business leaders.

The Prime Minister urged investors such as JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Blackrock to deploy trillions of pounds in helping Britain and other countries cut carbon emissions. 

The Government’s net zero strategy unveiled on Tuesday includes a pitch for £90bn of private funding, and Mr Johnson also announced a £400m partnership with Bill Gates to help develop more clean technologies.

Phil Hurley, chairman of the Heat Pump Association, said training more plumbers to fit the pumps poses a significant hurdle but will not be impossible.

He called for further incentives to encourage plumbers to retrain, including vouchers and new apprenticeships that focus solely on green heating systems.

Mr Hurley said: “Clearly it is going to be a big challenge, but we do not think it is an insurmountable one. 

“The Government’s announcement of the heat and building strategy has provided a direction of travel and will give the industry the confidence we need.

“We are ready to respond by scaling up training and there is already a highly-skilled workforce out there, so the question now is really how we train them to install all of these heat pumps.”

Under the strategy to reach net zero, ministers want tradespeople to be installing at least 600,000 ground and air source heat pumps annually by 2028.

They are seen as crucial to cutting carbon emissions from homes, even in scenarios where hydrogen heating is adopted as well. 

Britain’s developers build around 200,000 homes per year – although the Government wants this to rise to 300,000 – while only 36,000 heat pumps were installed last year.

Mr Hurley claimed that industry training centres have capacity to retrain as many as 40,000 plumbers per year. Some 120,000 are already qualified to install other kinds of heating systems.

But with the trade currently dominated by middle-aged and older people, some may opt to retire rather than learn the necessary skills.

Ministers sought to prompt early demand for heat pumps yesterday with the announcement of a £5,000 grant for households who switch to the technology – although this will only be available to 30,000 applicants per year.

Switching to pumps will also involve heavy reliance on foreign manufacturers at a time when the country is trying to make its supply chain more resilient.

Only 10,000 pumps are currently made each year in the UK, with another 25,000 imported from countries such as Sweden and Germany. 

Ministers have vowed to change that by pledging to spend £450m towards research and development.

But the plans were dismissed as a “massive letdown” by Labour’s Ed Miliband, the shadow energy secretary, while energy experts said more investment was still needed.

Lucy Yu, chief executive of Octopus Energy’s Centre for Net Zero, said: “If ministers are serious about getting the numbers of heat pumps into people’s homes that will keep us on track to achieving net zero, they must consider increasing the available funding rather than cutting off demand.”

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