A lack of installers could hinder the contribution of heat-pump technology from meeting the UK's climate action goals.
The Committee on Climate Change has identified the technology as a low-carbon alternative that could replace gas boilers in buildings and the UK aims to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2020 as part of its climate and energy goals.
However, current vocational training is inadequate according to new research from the University of Westminster, and a lack of skills and installer capacity could jeopardise the technology's widespread adoption.
Deficiencies in engineering knowledge mean heat pumps are often not designed or installed correctly, which results in relatively low performance for UK heat pumps when compared to continental Europe, which not only limits their usefulness, but also their market acceptance.
“Field trial results indicate a failure in the design and installation of heat pump systems, this is linked to the lack of appropriate knowledge, skills and competence for creating optimum performance," said Dr Colin Gleeson, author of the paper in journal Building Research & Information.
“Few UK installers have formal heat pump qualifications at NVQ level 3. Heat pump vocational education and training is generally offered through short-courses with no strict adherence to a common syllabus or a detailed training centre specification."
A Microgeneration Scheme, supported by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has produced technical guidance and initial training workshops to kick-start the training process, but the UK's domestic heating industry has yet to implement requirements for installers.
Peter Hansford, the Government's Chief Construction Advisor said: “Heat pumps are an important means of reducing carbon emissions from heating in buildings and in helping to meet the UK’s energy efficiency targets.
"This is why urgent action is needed to overcome the skills deficiency that is holding back the installation of heat pumps. I urge the industry to address ways in which these skills can be developed."