Don’t be ruled by consumer initiatives


31 March 2021

Griff Thomas, Managing Director of GTEC, discusses the threat presented by short-termism and encourages heating installers to take the long view when it comes to future-proofing their skills.

 Heat pumps will supply a large portion of our heating in the future but at the moment, there is a huge shortage of trained heat pump installers. If the UK’s low carbon aims are to become a reality, heating installers must think long-term rather than rely on consumer initiatives to incentivise their upskilling. 

In the past, government schemes to encourage consumer uptake of renewable technologies have been short-lived, leaving heating installers feeling despondent and unwilling to engage with the low-carbon heating sector. However, with the clock ticking on our target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, this short-term approach to upskilling has left us in a precarious position, with nowhere near enough renewable heating installers to meet demand. 

We must stop using fossil fuels to heat our homes and move on to more sustainable technologies.  There is no silver bullet solution; a combination of different technologies will be required to support full decarbonisation; however, heat pumps are expected to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden, particularly in new builds.

Heat pump opportunities

The Future Homes Standard introduces rigorous new energy efficiency standards to ensure that new build homes are ‘net zero ready’ by 2025.  It sets out a clear pathway to net zero, starting with an interim uplift to Part L of the Building Regulations will lead to a 31% reduction in carbon emissions by next year.  When the legislation is implemented in 2025, all new homes will be built to produce at least 75% less carbon emissions compared to current regulations, setting us firmly on the path to net zero by 2050. 

‘Net zero ready’ homes built to the new standard will be heated with low-carbon technologies, highly insulated and energy efficient.  Their only carbon emissions will be related to the electricity they use and as the grid moves towards full decarbonisation, they will require no further retro-fitting to meet net zero standards. 

Heat pumps offer the ideal solution here as they take advantage of widespread growth in renewable electricity generation.  They are extremely energy efficient thanks to their exploitation of energy already accumulated in the environment, which accounts for around 70% of their energy usage, with the remainder provided by electricity.

Regardless of the latest short-term consumer initiatives, the Future Homes Standard cements the role of heat pumps firmly in the low-carbon future, providing promising opportunities for heating installers.

Changing attitudes

The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has stated that 19 million heat pumps need to be installed by 2050, but we are a long way off this target.  The government must direct more resources towards consumer engagement to raise public awareness of decarbonisation, why it is so important and how it can be achieved, as well as incentivising uptake of certain technologies.  

Lack of qualified installers is also a huge stumbling block.  According to the Heat Pump Association’s 2020 report ‘Building the installer base for net zero heating’ we will need significant growth in heat pump installers over the next 15 years, with around 69,500 installers required by 2035.  At the moment, there are less than 1,000 MCS Certified heat pumps installers – nowhere near enough to meet demand. 

Growth within the installer base will predominantly come from existing heating installers, who already have experience of the sector, knowledge of heating systems and a secure customer base.  Those are willing to embrace new technology and view upskilling and accreditation as a long-term investment rather than a quick-win will be best placed to prosper in the low-carbon future. 

Train for the future, not the scheme

We’ve recently been working alongside MCS to deliver the Renewable Heat Installer Training and Support Scheme (RHITSS).  This installer training scheme was initially set up to meet increased demand for renewable installers due to the roll out of the Green Homes Grant scheme.  At the time of writing, the future of the Green Homes Grant looks precarious, however, this does not diminish the value of the RHITSS and similar schemes.

The RHITSS offers the opportunity for experienced heating installers to upskill to heat pumps (or solar thermal), with up to 70% of the total costs covered, including technology training, pre-requisite courses and accreditation fees – worth around £1,300 per company. 

We recognise that cost is not the only barrier and many installers have been put of MCS certification in the past by the sheer amount of paperwork involved.  The RHITSS aims to overcome this barrier with a package of support designed to guide candidates through each stage of their application, from helping you to secure your first installation to understanding MCS standards and form filling.

Demand for heat pump installers will not disappear if funding is pulled from the Green Homes Grant, therefore the skills and certification you gain will not be wasted.  Upskilling to this technology of the future is a fantastic option for building services installers with transferrable skills who can see beyond the short-term consumer initiatives to a low-carbon future.

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Simplified route to MCS certification

MCS certification is the gold standard for renewables installers.  It is recognised throughout the industry as a mark of excellence and demonstrates adherence to recognised industry standards; highlighting quality, competency and compliance. 

Recently, MCS has streamlined some parts of the application process to make it easier for renewable installers to get certified and the proposals are out for consultation now:

New qualification-based route: applicants must demonstrate competency under the scheme and in the past an MCS assessment was required.  However, securing this first installation as an uncertified installer is often difficult.  The newly introduced route will recognise the practical assessments undertaken as part of an RQF qualification as a demonstration of competency, therefore no additional ‘onsite’ MCS assessment is required when following this route.

Step-by-step support: as part of the RHITSS, MCS is providing a full package of free support to guide installers through each stage of their certification journey, including:

•             Understanding MCS standards and practical application

•             Installation site visits

•             Specific technical guidance

•             Developing a quality management system (QMS)

•             Downloadable resources, templates and one-on-one support.

Heat pumps in numbers

0 – net carbon emissions the UK has committed to producing by 2050.

95 – percentage reduction in household heating emissions required to meet this target.

2025 – year the Future Homes Standard will be implemented.  From this date onwards, all new builds must be heated by low-carbon technologies.

2033 – by this date, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has recommended that all new heating installations and replacements are low-carbon.

67,000 – number of heat pump units ordered by manufacturers in 2021.

69,500 – number of heat pump installers needed by 2035.

600,000 – yearly heat pump installations the government wants to see by 2028.