Jocelynne Rowan caught up with Kevin Lucas, Business Development and Operations Manager for Hisense UK to find out how current industry trends are providing opportunities for this global company to grow in the UK and Ireland.
Kevin Lucas is Business Development and Operations Manager in the UK and Ireland for Hisense. With its headquarters in China, Hisense is a global technology manufacturer, with a large European operation, and entered the UK and Ireland market a year ago, supplying air source heat pumps through a distributor.
Kevin has worked for a number of HVAC manufacturers and distributors, specialising in renewables for residential and commercial applications.
Can you provide an overview of the current market situation for your business?
Hisense is a brand that is becoming more well known in the UK as a TV and white goods manufacturer and sponsor of major sporting events like the Euro 24 finals. However, although well established in Europe, with centres in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, Hisense HVAC is a newcomer to the UK for its air conditioning and heat pumps.
We have been operating in the UK for just over a year and we are starting to establish ourselves alongside some of the bigger and more well-known brands. There are certain certifications and databases we need to be listed on, so we have taken the time to ensure our systems are up to date with UK requirements.
Over the past year, we have been developing and building relationships with good distributors in the UK and Ireland who are supplying our brand into these markets and helping us establish ourselves. The distributors we have chosen to work with have good knowledge of the heat pump market, having been active in it for a number of years, and can provide good pre- and post-sales support. This year will be about concentrating on establishing ourselves with these distributors and supporting them and providing the best service to them.
We feel it’s the right time for Hisense to have more presence in the UK market and it is important for us to play our part in how the heat pump industry is being developed by starting to participate in trade bodies and associations meetings.
What trends and changes have you observed recently?
As we know, the demand for heat pumps is growing in the UK, which is good to see. I have worked in the renewable and low carbon technologies industry for around 20 years now and heat pumps have always been part of this. Back then, the thinking was that ‘next year will be the year that heat pumps start to take off’; over the last few years that time has finally come, and the numbers are, indeed, starting to take off!
This is partly due to the government schemes and grants now available, making the purchase of heat pumps more attractive. These include providing a lump sum to encourage take-up, as well as schemes aimed at households with lower incomes to support heat pump installations.
This has led to an increase in manufacturers and suppliers in the UK, including Hisense. I worked for a boiler manufacturer 15 years ago which introduced heat pumps, as did a number of other boiler manufacturers. When the market didn’t move as quickly as anticipated, they nearly all drifted out the market, but they are back again now with their own versions.
There is also more emphasis on creating a robust programme of training for installers to ensure that they have the knowledge and competent skills for installation and ongoing service requirements. There is currently a shortage of trained installers, so it is important to increase the number considerably in order to meet government targets.
The industry has been working towards refrigerants that have a less harmful effect on the Earth’s atmosphere. This has been more prominent in recent years with the introduction of R32 refrigerant and now the move towards lower GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerants like R290.
What shifts in customer preferences or needs have you noticed?
Recently, the public are much more aware of heat pumps, and have a better understanding of how they work. Potential customers are now much more concerned with questions on the installation, efficiency and performance of a heat pump, rather than the ‘what is a heat pump?’ or ‘how does it warm my home?’ questions I got when I started in this industry. However, the systems operation and controls should still be explained to the customer.
People are also more aware of the energy they use and conscious of its cost, especially with the recent changes in pricing. This is understandable with people considering whether heat pumps would suit their circumstances and provide a more efficient and energy saving heating solution.
What are your company’s current developments and challenges?
Heat pumps are still evolving and it could be argued that we are seeing more changes to them recently that we ever did previously. There are a number of areas that companies are looking to improve, including efficiencies, appearance, size and noise. If a heat pump is going to be situated in someone’s garden, then they want it to be as small, unobtrusive and as quiet as possible, and have a modern look about it. These are all factors that we have included or are looking to incorporate with our next generation. We have already developed a more compact single fan unit throughout our range of Monobloc from 10kW to 16kW.
A key challenge at the moment for all heat pump manufacturers, including Hisense, is to meet the European regulations and requirements for a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP) for the refrigerant. We currently have a range of R32 refrigerant systems and we are at the next stage of development with a R290 refrigerant, which will be launched this year. This refrigerant has an even lower GWP than R32 and will appeal to all aspects of the market.
With the rising importance of smart and connected systems, how is your company embracing digitalisation and IoT (Internet of Things) to improve efficiency?
Heat pumps have always had leading edge control systems. They are now at a stage where a master controller has the flexibility to work with heat pumps and other incorporated systems, such as boilers and solar PV, so that the whole heating system works at optimum performance and provides the best efficiency for the household.
We presently have Wi-Fi capability to enable the owner to access the heat pump and control the room temperature remotely through an app. Our next generation of integrated smart and connected controls will provide the consumer with more information, like energy consumption and energy generation, and a third party such as the installer or maintenance engineer can also use this to monitor the system through running logs and be notified of any issues.
Training and skill development are crucial in this industry. What are you doing to encourage new talent?
As we are new to the UK market, we are still in the process of growing our team. We are looking for the best people who will grow with the business and, in time, develop their own team. This could be someone within the heating industry looking to further their career or a great opportunity for someone from outside the industry to develop in this growing sector.
We are currently discussing a project with a university to create a heat pump demo system, complete with related technologies to optimise system operation and efficiency. This will provide the university with a fully working heating system that Hisense and the university can then use to enhance awareness and recognition of energy reducing heating systems. The aim is to encourage students to understand and take more interest in renewable technologies and, perhaps, consider a future in this industry. The set-up will also be used to conduct training sessions for local installers as well as providing a demonstration model for the local community.
For more information, visit www.hisensehvac.com
Visit Hisense on stand 5F90 at InstallerSHOW to find out more about the brand’s full range of heat pumps