Stewart Clements, Director at the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC), looks at the challenge of getting consumers on board with the potential of a low carbon future.
When it comes to climate change globally, we have to make changes. Setting targets is one thing, but we have to make sure they are successfully met. That means a shift in mindset across every aspect of the chain, from manufacturer to the final point of use.
Here in the UK, we spend billions a year on heating. Without changing the way we produce and consume heat, we simply will not meet these long-term climate goals.
Yet, the uptake of ‘greener’ solutions in the UK has so far been slow. This may not be because many homeowners do not want to, but because the way we have gone about it in the past hasn’t always been effective.
The Green Deal is one example where over-complicating the route to installation failed to engage the end-user and the industry alike, unfortunately leaving both instantly wary of any subsequent changes going forward.
Policy aside though, there is a wider challenge for the industry. How much it will cost will always be a concern for the end-user, and that expectation will very much need to be tackled head on. The reality is that consumers will need to adjust not only how and when they use heat and energy, but also how they perceive the heat generated. Heat will not simply be delivered via piping hot radiators, which for many consumers is the signal that their system is working.
Consumer acceptance of low-grade heat will require further work. As a nation, we are predominately used to bi-modal heating patterns; putting the heating on if we are cold, and being able to instantly boost it when desired. Many homeowners will simply not be familiar with continuous heating with night setback, as is commonplace in many parts of Europe.
One likelihood is unnecessary consumer interaction with the heating controls, i.e. altering optimised time/temperature settings, resulting in greater energy consumption, and reduced savings.
The risk is disappointing and disenfranchising consumers at an early stage, undermining wider public confidence in these technologies, and proving counter-productive in the long-term. Acceptance will take time. Greater consumer education and information will be needed if we are to begin to introduce new technologies and energy sources with everyone on board. And, as the consumer-facing side of the industry, engineers are extremely well placed to reassure, advise and be the link between product and end-user.
This, I think, is the real challenge. Yet it is also somewhere we can make a big difference by ensuring homeowners have all the information they need to feel confident enough to take this much needed step forward.
Indeed we, with both industry and homeowner hats on, all have a part to play – from ensuring technologies are market-ready, that the engineer network is on-board, trained, and ready to fit new products, and that homeowners are primed, informed, and willing to demand new technologies to complete the loop.
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