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Will the domestic RHI incentivise installers to invest in training?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 13 December 2012 at 10:14 am

Renewable heat zones led by local authorities would provide the incentives necessary for heating engineers to invest in training and skills for renewable heat installation, according to Kelly Butler of BEAMA.

Speaking at the Westminster Forum on Progress of the RHI last month, Butler pointed out that there is already a workforce and supply chain for heating, and that merchants are diversifying into the sector. "There’s around 1.5 million heat generators sold each year, so there’s quite a lot to go for. There’s over 70,000 installation companies in the market place and they represent over 100,000 trained individuals.

But while we have the capability in terms of distibution, and heating manufacturers are spending a lot on training and installation support, and merchants are diversifying into the market, there's still a big challenge ahead according to Butler if targets are to be met for renewable heat installations

"We have to capture the hearts and minds of the installer fraternity," he said. "A few years back we did some analysis and we worked out that to achieve between 1 and 1.4 million heat pumps by 2020, we would need to have about 8,000 trained installers. MCS today has about 600 or so. RHI will change this, but is a national scheme really enough to grow this market?"

BEAMA's preferred approach is to build a mass market through renewable heat zones with local authorities leading the development: "Lets say that a local authority makes a five year commitment to install 50,000 hat pumps within its area," said Butler. "Now that's a plan I can sign up to as an installer, that's a number. I will pay for training for a piec of that action, I will grow my business to do that. If the local authority has buddied-up with the manufacturers to provide the training, or maybe a merchant or two, that's even better, maybe subsidised training for the installer."

BEAMA's analysis of the domestic RHI proposals indicate that at the higher end of the tariff range there is a clear benefit for customers to invest in heat pumps - especially those living off the gas grid. But, as Butler pointed out: "This is no use at all if the customer cannot find an installer, more importantly a quality installer. So the challenge now is to give confidence to the installer market. ... I think that the missing link in our heat supply chain today is the local authority. ... If we are to tgive confidence and to really tip markets here we are going to need that strong local authority commitment.

Speaking at the same session Ilias Vazaios of Ecuity Consulting identified similar challenges (to achieve binding decarbonisation targets by 2030, around 6.3m domestic heat pumps will have to be installed), but proposed a different solution: regulation.

"A change in the building regulations in 2005 mandated condensing boilers and made the UK the biggest market in Europe for condensing boilers," he said. "A considerable number of Ecuity’s customers believe that elastic regulatory change to put in place stringent emissions performance standards under the building regulations for new heating units by the end of the decade can figure massive change from conventional products to renewable solutions or low carbon solutions, and lead to steeper cost reductions and eliminating the need for sustained fiscal support."

Photo: the wild center

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