Why heat pumps need smarter controls – simpler installation

June, 2024

This is the final entry in our series exploring why heat pumps need smarter control. In this Insight, we’ll consider one of the biggest challenges in increasing heat pump deployment – installation. Heat pumps are certainly more difficult to install than gas boilers, but this shouldn’t be a barrier to decarbonising the UK’s heating. Read on as we explore how smart controls can make heat pump installation simpler.

In this series of Insights, we’ve explored how the right smart controls can benefit heat pumps. This includes how they can provide better comfort through smart preheating while making heat pumps easier to use. We’ve also seen how they can save heat pump owners money by improving efficiency, optimising to smart energy tariffs and by providing flexibility to the electricity grid.

The benefits to heat pump owners are clear. But before any of these benefits can be realised, a heat pump needs to be installed, commissioned and handed over to a new owner. There aren’t enough installers to meet the Government’s ambitious heat pump targets. A study by the Heating and Hot Water Industry Council suggested that another 100,000 installers are required in the UK.

One reason for this shortage of installers is that heat pumps can be quite complicated to install and commission. For a heat pump to run as efficiently as possible, it needs to be set up correctly. One key setting that impacts a heat pump’s efficiency is its flow temperature. This determines the temperature of water that the heat pump sends into the radiators – a lower flow temperature means a higher efficiency and lower bills (read the first Insight in the series to find out why). When commissioning a heat pump, an installer will have a choice between two flow temperature settings – fixed temperature or weather compensated.

Choosing a fixed flow temperature is the easier option. As the name suggests, this means that the heat pump will always output the same temperature of water no matter the internal or external conditions. This is simple, but not good for a heat pump’s efficiency. Typically, a high fixed flow temperature is chosen so that the heat pump can keep a home comfortable on cold days. But this means a heat pump is working harder than it needs to in warmer weather and will be cycling on and off frequently, both of which increase heating bills.

The other choice is using a weather compensation curve. With weather compensation, the heat pump will run at a higher temperature if it is cold outside. The exact temperatures the heat pump uses are chosen by the installer and are set on the heat pump during commissioning. Using weather compensation is better than a fixed flow temperature, as it allows a heat pump to adapt to the environment to only provide the heat needed to warm a home and this means it doesn’t have to work as hard. However, setting the weather compensation is an extremely difficult thing to do. An installer will calculate the weather compensation curve at the point of installation using the best information that they have at the time – probably a heat loss calculation they have produced for the home. But that weather compensation curve doesn’t change if they get it wrong and it doesn’t adjust to new information. Nor can it look at weather forecasts or factor in how the homeowner uses their heating system.

Setting the correct flow temperature settings is one of the most challenging parts of installing a heat pump. This was explored in a recent series of videos between heat pump experts Heat Geek and celebrity builder Roger Bisby (best known as the building expert on BBC television programmes Watchdog and Rogue Traders). Roger, a heat pump sceptic, interviewed a heat pump owner about their poor experience with an installation. It turned out that the heat pump had been set up to run at a fixed flow temperature which was resulting in high bills and a cold home. The Heat Geek team set up a weather compensation curve on the heat pump and it started to run better. This is great, but it took multiple revisits to the home and even now the weather compensation won’t be perfect.

The latest generation of smart heat pump controls, like the Passiv Smart Thermostat, can make heat pumps a lot easier to install.

The Passiv Smart Thermostat completely removes the need for an installer to set a weather compensation curve. Instead, it directly controls the heat pump’s flow temperature, constantly adjusting the weather compensation curve to achieve the perfect settings. This removes a headache for installers while also guaranteeing that a heat pump operates at the best possible efficiency.

This dynamic weather compensation forms the basis of the Passiv Smart Thermostat’s optimisation. By continuously adjusting the flow temperature, it can improve a heat pump’s efficiency by 17%, as verified by the Energy Saving Trust. It also uses dynamic weather compensation to optimise to time of use tariffs and rooftop solar PV generation. Together, these enable savings on a householder’s heating bills of up to 30%.

The Passiv Smart Thermostat makes installing a heat pump simpler in other ways too. The Passiv Programmer comes with a built-in, push-fit wiring centre to make installing the heating system fast, easy and reliable. The heat pump is commissioned from the Programmer in just two minutes using the rich colour screen without needing an internet connection or smartphone.

Available with a wired or wireless thermostat, and compatible with both one and two-zone systems, the Passiv Smart Thermostat is well suited to any heat pump installation. Designed with simplicity in mind, it isn’t any more complicated to install than a standard thermostat and programmer. And by removing the need to set a weather compensation curve, it really does make a heat pump easier to install!

This brings to an end our series of Insights exploring why heat pumps need smarter controls. To revisit any of the previous articles in the series, visit our Insights page. To find out more about how the Passiv Smart Thermostat can benefit your customers, get in touch with us via the Contact page.