Renewing demand for renewable

Human beings, by change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.

Mick Williams, he of the boiler scrappage campaign, is on the warpath again.

He doesn’t believe that the way the current Renewable Heat Initiative and its allied MCS accreditation scheme are set up is in the best interests of the industry or the householders.

For the next six months (to start with anyway), householders can get money back from the government’s RHI for installing new technology heating systems. There’s up to £15m quid available, for installing a ground source heat pump (£1250 grant), biomass boiler (£950), air source heat pump (£850) or solar thermal hot water panels (£300). All of this is claimable as long as the householder has the product installed by someone who is registered under the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme).

The RHI is designed to get householders and businesses to invest in new, renewable energy technology to limit our reliance on fossil fuels. The MCS is the government’s way of ensuring that renewable technology is installed by the people who understand what they are doing. So far, so sensible. However, like most of these things, the devil is in the detail.

There are currently fewer than 2,500 MCS accredited installers, compared with 120,000 registered gas engineers. So the big question is, how in heavens name is this, relatively small number of qualified, certified professionals, to undertake all the work that there could (and should) be demand for.

Well, of course, it can’t be expected to. Which means the take-up is likely to fall far short of the numbers the government and the renewables industry (to say nothing of the planet) would hope it to be.

Williams wants the MCS to be made more appealing and accessible to installers, with a big reduction in the amount of administration and paperwork required.

He believes, quite rightly, that over-regulation is the biggest barrier to renewables take-up, with smaller businesses put off becoming accredited by the burden of admin. And if those smaller businesses – which will tend to be the independent plumbers who are usually a householder’s first port of call – are put off the scheme, they may well try and put their customers off the idea of installing renewable technology in the first place.

Remember the early days of condensing boilers, when greener-minded householders were told ‘oh you don’t want one of those, madam, they aren’t as good as you think’ by plumbers who didn’t trust the technology or who hadn’t been trained on installing it?

If the RHI – and its cousin the Green Deal, for that matter – is really to transform the way we heat our homes, it has to work for everyone in the supply chain. Small, medium, large and end-user.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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