Mark Wilkins, head of training and external affairs at Vaillant, welcomes a BEIS consultation on future support for low carbon heat beyond the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), but questions whether some of the proposed measures could be implemented sooner.
Vaillant welcomes the consultation on future support for low carbon heat, particularly the Clean Heat Grant. We hosted an industry roundtable in 2019 on how to decarbonise heat in UK buildings and financial support was one of the main areas that delegates identified as being key to increasing the uptake of heat pumps, as upfront costs can sometimes be a barrier.
These plans are a welcome step in the UK’s journey to achieving net zero carbon by 2050, but we also need to work together to build a sustainable industry that isn’t dependent on grant funding.
This consultation sets out plans for financial support to succeed the Domestic RHI, which currently ends in March 2022. However, we question whether it would be beneficial to introduce the measures sooner than this to stimulate the UK’s low carbon economy.
While protecting the nation’s health must undoubtedly take priority, bringing forward the deployment of these incentives, when it is safe to do so, could provide a much needed ‘boost’ to construction, sustain jobs and keep climate issues at the forefront of the nation’s collective consciousness. To quote the consultation document ‘The proposed support schemes … will provide support to businesses, many of which are small and medium-sized UK enterprises, including manufacturers, installers and project developers in the low carbon heating sector’.
There are hard times ahead and historically low carbon funding has been one of the first casualties during an economic downturn. But we can no longer afford to put green initiatives on the backburner. It’s crunch time for tackling climate change and we must act swiftly to prevent further impact on the environment.
In anticipation of increased demand for heat pumps, we must also address the issue of upskilling the workforce. There are currently around 135k Gas Safe registered installers who work in domestic gas boiler installations but only around 800 Microgeneration Certificate (MCS) registered installers.
With this in mind, we believe that this consultation should be supported by a review of the current MCS framework, to ensure that it remains fit for purpose in light of potential changes to financial incentives and the ever changing marketplace. The priority here is ensuring that, irrespective of the scheme in place, we have a highly skilled workforce that is capable of delivering low carbon solutions, backed by an accreditation scheme that protects the interests of consumers and provides reassurance that work will be completed to a high standard.
There is no question of the scale of the challenge of upskilling the workforce to meet the increasing demand for heat pumps, but with the right funding and training we are confident that the industry will rise to the challenge. We are currently using online tools to train engineers in low carbon technologies and plan to continue investing in our face-to-face training facilities once we are permitted to re-open them.
Nevertheless, the widespread adoption of heat pumps is just one piece of the puzzle. We are in support of many different routes to decarbonisation, including options being explored to ‘green’ the gas supply.
The consultation also sets out plans for a Green Gas Support Scheme to increase the proportion of green gas in the grid through support for biomethane injection. We receive these ideas with interest, and are also actively supporting a number of projects that are examining the use of hydrogen in homes and businesses and how it can be delivered through the existing UK gas network.
Whilst regulations can push households to take action to decarbonise their heating sources, they need to go hand-in-hand with financial support and competent professionals to carry out the installations. The combination of these factors would not only help consumers manage the cost of low-carbon solutions, but would also offer confidence in the reliability of these technologies.
What’s more, driving demand for sustainable heating technologies in this way would give the industry encouragement for further investment. The journey towards a cleaner, greener world will not be easy, but putting in the right incentives is definitely a good start.