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Heat Pump Movement – what support and engagement do consumers need?

The government announced this week that UK households will be offered £5,000 grants to install electric heat pumps in their homes, in a move that the treasury says could provide heat pumps to as many as 90,000 UK homes over the next three years.   This is a clear attempt to incentivise the uptake of a low carbon technology by making the price of these new alternatives favourably comparable to legacy high carbon technologies, in this case gas boilers.

In 2020 Accent carried out a study for Citizens Advice looking at what consumers need in terms of support and engagement from a government strategy intended to encourage the adoption of low carbon heating solutions. This work involved a desk review, 15 one on one depth interviews with consumer who have already adopted low carbon technologies in their homes, and 4 deliberative workshops with property owners who were non-adopters of low carbon technologies.

This study revealed several key barriers to uptake that we can measure the likely carbon reducing effectiveness of this new heat pump grant against.

  • People want visible and tangible leadership from the government on how they can tackle climate change issues in their day to day lives. The concept of tackling global climate change is both too broad and too vague a task to engage with, and consumers lack the market and product knowledge around alternative solutions to make the low carbon purchasing decisions they would like to.
  • Financial appeals are in practice stronger incentives than purely environmental motivations. Cheaper options in the short (capital cost) and long-term (maintenance, energy bills) are often prioritised by consumers.
  • In person demonstrations of the effectiveness of a new, unproven technology, such as electric heat pumps, are required to build consumer product confidence.
  • Small community-scale solutions are desired by some in UK housing, not just solutions at the household level.
  • Regulation is key, consumers require independent, non-commercial advice to make informed decisions on which low carbon technologies to choose. This extends to a government regulated marketplace for low carbon technology products with associated service standards; and a directory of qualified and audited engineers to maintain them moving forward.

When considered alongside these findings this new government grant does several things well.

It provides a clear, concrete action for consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint by advocating for a low carbon boiler alternative in their homes.

It also clearly makes it more affordable, meeting the financial appeal that is so often prioritised.

However, it’s clear in maximising adoption some issues remain unanswered, namely in supporting the customer journey. Our study found this should be done through market regulation as well as taking measures to bolster consumer market knowledge and product confidence.

In this, and other research, we have consistently found it is crucial to understand customers’ barriers and levers, so they can be fully supported and encouraged to take up carbon friendly alternatives. If thjs is something your organisation needs support with please contact dawn.mulvey@ accent-mr.com

Our report can be found here.