National Grid moves to speed heat pump and solar panel installations

Image: Octopus Energy

Traditionally, the local distribution network operator has had to upgrade the fuse on the incoming electricity supply before homes and businesses could fit technologies like heat pumps, battery storage systems, electric vehicle (EV) chargers or rooftop solar.

Now, Octopus Energy engineers have permission to upgrade the fuses themselves at the same time as the technology installation.

Additionally, heat pumps installed by Octopus have been pre-approved for connection, mitigating the need for checks on whether the local energy grid could accommodate the additional power demand.

National Grid claims that the changes will knock up to five weeks off the installation times for heat pumps, rising to 10 weeks maximum for home solar, batteries and EV charging.

National Grid Electricity Distribution president Cordi O’Hara said: “Over the last five years, we’ve seen the number of electric vehicle chargers installed on our network increase by eight times, and the number of heat pumps triple. These new changes to the fuse upgrade process are part of our commitment to make it even easier for customers to connect low-carbon technologies.

Critical moment

The changes come at a crucial pinch-point for small-scale renewables in the UK.

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) recently confirmed that 2023 was a record-breaking year for small-scale renewable installations in the UK. Installations in England were up 32% year-on-year. Rates also accelerated significantly in Wales, where almost 9% of homes now have one or more technologies installed.

Accelerating these rates further will depend on robust policymaking and on collaboration between governments and industry to address issues such as a looming skills shortage, grid constraints and technology affordability.

On affordability, the UK Government recently grew the Boiler Upgrade Scheme budget by £1.5bn after increasing the maximum grant amount available to each home from £5,000 to £7,500. Grant funding is paid to those switching from oil or gas boilers to heat pumps.

And, just this week, Ministers set out proposals to change Permitted Development Rights in England in a way that could unlock air-source heat pump installations. Policymakers are likely to axe rules preventing air-source heat pump installations within one metre of a property boundary without planning permission and ease rules enabling multiple heat pumps within one block of flats.

Yet Ministers have been accused of sending mixed messaging on heat pumps and of lacking an overarching delivery strategy.

Last week, it was reported that the Government is poised to axe a target for 600,000 heat pump installations per year from 2028. It would also reportedly do away with the Clean Heat Market Mechanism, which mandates heating manufacturers to shift to low-carbon options.

A formal decision has not been announced yet.

If the changes go ahead, they would compound Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to move a ban on oil boilers in off-grid homes, initially set for 2026, to 2035. A wider plan to phase out 100% of domestic gas boilers by 2035 has also been weakened to 80%.

Decarbonising building heat is a crucial part of the UK’s net-zero transition and an area in which past policy frameworks have proven largely ineffective, according to the UK Government’s own climate advisors.

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