The big green homes debate


14 December 2020
Ian Rippin, CEO of MCS

Before the launch of the Green Homes Grant, the think tank IPPR called on the Government to establish a comprehensive plan to drive low-carbon heating and energy efficiency.

Heat pumps – combined with high energy efficiency standards – are recognised as being a core part of a national strategy to fundamentally reduce the UK’s carbon consumption and help meet its 2050 Net Zero targets.

However, the research by IPPR showed that the Government was supporting the installation of less than 2% of the heat pumps that are needed each year – clearly, the figures haven’t been adding up.

With this in mind, the Government’s latest renewable energy drive, the £2bn Green Homes Grant, launched at the end of September 2020 to much political fanfare. 

Initially expected to run for six months until the end of March 2021, the Green Homes Grant gives homeowners vouchers from £5,000 - £10,000 to spend on energy-saving home improvements. 

As the UK’s only recognised standard for small-scale renewables, MCS is included under the scheme for the installation of heat pumps, biomass and solar thermal. Consumers must use MCS certified contractors to carry out renewable energy installations on their homes.

While the Green Homes Grant was heralded by the government as a shot in the arm for the renewable energy sector, the industry had a decidedly more critical view, with calls to extend the scheme so installers could meet growing demand.

The government has listened to these calls, a new £4bn 10-point plan to kickstart a Green Industrial Revolution, which saw a commitment to installing 600,000 heat pumps by 2028 and, crucially, a further £1bn invested into the Green Homes Grant backed by an extension of the scheme until March 2022. The shift intends to give homeowners a further 12 months to complete energy efficient improvements.

Ian Rippin, CEO of MCS, advises the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on renewable energy policy. He called for improvements to be made to the Green Homes Grant for the long-term benefit of installers and consumers alike, and to drive uptake of heat pumps on a much larger scale.

Paul Leedham of Matrix Energy Systems

Here, he discusses the numerous challenges raised by the grant and where the sector goes with two MCS certified renewable heating installers: Paul Leedham, Managing Director of Sheffield-based energy efficiency experts Matrix Energy Systems; and Justin Bullard, Technical Director of IEC Limited, a plumbing company which designs and installs air source heat pump projects across East Anglia.

Ian Rippin: “Since the launch of the Green Homes Grant, we have been fielding calls on a daily basis from installers seeking clarity and expressing their concerns over what they felt were flaws in the scheme. It’s been a turbulent year for our installers, due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Most have now returned to work and are busy delivering on existing projects that had been paused, meaning that they didn’t necessarily have capacity to fulfil new work within the initial six-month deadline of the scheme.”

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Paul Leedham: “The launch of the Green Homes Grant felt rushed to me – our pipeline of work was already busy before this new consumer incentive. As a small operation, there weren’t enough hours in the day for us to get on with our existing projects and take on new jobs, while helping homeowners through the very convoluted sign-up process.”

Justin Bullard: “We were in a similar position. Many homeowners have little or no understanding of heat pumps, never mind how they can benefit from having one installed at their property. The eligibility assessment asks very specific questions about property infrastructure, such as heat loss or U-values, which your average homeowner is unlikely to know. We have to fill in these gaps for people.”

IR: “Given the lack of consumer education, a great deal more work needs to be done by our installers to help consumers understand the best options for making their home more energy efficient. That consumer education is sorely required to take pressure off the industry. The consensus among our installers was that the grant should be extended beyond March 2021 to enable more consumers to take advantage. Furthermore, one of the fundamental aims of the scheme is to create 100,000 new jobs within energy and renewables, backed by a training fund. We are glad the government has somewhat heeded these calls.”

IEC designs and installs air source heat pump systems across East Anglia

PL is assisting MCS and the industry in writing new best practice training for the installation of heat pumps. He said: “The opening window just didn’t give the sector the confidence, nor time, to make the necessary long-term investments to train new staff. Installing an air or ground-source heat pump is an incredibly complex process – it’s vital to ensure it’s done right, to protect homeowners from substandard installations and to uphold the industry’s reputation at this challenging time.”

JB adds that installers were not properly consulted ahead of the launch: “We need to conduct rigorous surveys and heat loss calculations at a cost to the homeowner, simply to ascertain if a heat pump would work in their property. It takes significant time to train someone to do this – six months was unrealistic for bringing people up to the high industry standards maintained by MCS.”

Overall, MCS welcomes the extension of the Green Homes Grant, but maintains that it must be backed up by long-term policy changes and an understanding of how the sector will be supported in the coming years. 

IR: “With those assurances, we are confident that the scheme will play a strong part in helping to build confidence and grow our industry.”

PL: “The industry is approaching a cliff edge as we await the end of the domestic RHI in 2022. The level of fiscal support offered by the Green Homes Grant would have been better suited to the Clean Heat Grant, which is currently going through consultation and aims to direct further investment into heat pumps. That said, I’m glad the Grant now takes us up to 2022.”

JB: “Heat pumps are a viable solution for meeting our energy efficiency aims in England. The technology is here, and it works. The focus needs to be on guaranteeing high quality, expert installations, while improving the consumer journey so they know what they’re getting from their investment.”  

Ian and Rippin and Paul Leedham