Risks identified for buyers as two-tier market for heat pumps emerges
Posted by John Barker-Brown on 14 June 2013 at 10:04 am
With the uncertainty caused by another delay to the domestic renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme, we are seeing a two-tier market for heat pumps emerge, where some people are opting for the cheaper option of using products and installers who are not accredited under the microgeneration certification scheme (MCS).
In doing so, they miss out on the consumer protection offered by the renewable energy consumer code (RECC), which all MCS members must join. They also miss out on the government's renewable heat premium payments, and the potential to claim the renewable heat incentive, which is expected to launch in spring 2014.
The many delays have caused a lack of consumer confidence in the RHI, and people are waiting for certainty before placing orders. This has led to greater competition among installers for a limited number of orders. Add to this the growing number of hurdles that an installer now has to jump over to achieve MCS installer approval, and the bureaucratic procedures they must follow to show compliance, and a two tier market has emerged.
Although the number of MCS accredited installers is still increasing, some reputable companies are letting their accreditation lapse due to the additional processes now required by MCS.
Non-MCS installers are offering non-MCS approved products for considerably less money than an MCS-accredited installer with an MCS-accredited product and householders are accepting these systems for a varity of reasons: lack in confidence in the RHI, attractive lower purchase costs, or lack of awareness of the requirement for MCS to access financial incentives from the government.
To illustrate the point, the Building Services Research and Information Service estimated that over 20,000 sales of heat pumps went ahead in 2012. Yet, Gemserv only issued 7,406 MCS certificates.
While some of these non-MCS approved installers may provide an installation as good as an approved MCS installer, a large number will not.
MCS guidelines ensure that a system that operates correctly and efficiently and that the consumer is not misled with spurious claims about performance.
MCS ensures that among other things:
• the correct procedure for sizing the heat pump is followed,
• the ground array sizing (if ground source) is correct,
• that the consumer is provided with correctly calculated running costs,
• the consumer knows how to operate the system,
At its heart MCS is about consumer protection and has the backing of the Renewable Energy Consumer Code (RECC, previously known as REAL), which legally binds installers to follow certain procedures (although there is some discussion on whether the RECC has actually ‘bared its teeth’ in anger yet!).
Non-MCS installations lack all the quality requirements, so any additional consumer protection (other than that offered by Trading Standards) is no longer available. Not only could this mean that the system installed is not fit for purpose, but the whole industry-wide image of the technology could be damaged for both MCS accredited and non-MCS installations.
Finally, it is worth remembering that non-MCS approved installations will not be eligible for any grant stream (including the RHI, when it finally arrives). Developers who use non-accredited installers or products will invalidate NHBC building warranties and their installation will not count towards the Code for Sustainable Homes ratings.
More information about heat pumps and the RHI
About the author: John Barker-Brown is special projects manager at British heat pump manufacturer Kensa Engineering.
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