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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

YouGen guide to heat pumps

10 Questions to ask when choosing an air source heat pump installer

10 things a good heat pump installer should ask you

Which is the best heat pump?

YouGen guide to the renewable heat incentive

Photo: Kensa

About the author: John Barker-Brown is special projects manager at British heat pump manufacturer Kensa Engineering.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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2 comments - read them below or add one


Anthony525Comment left on: 28 June 2013 at 6:23 pm

This is a wildly expensive way to heat a home, you will never save any money, unless you install the things yourself.

Few people will want to instal double sized radiators, that is radiators with double their existing heat output, wall space is precious.  The only way to go is under floor heating. With suspended wooden floors this is do able, with concrete floors, its probably too much trouble, unless you have high ceilings and can raise the floor level six inches, then raise the doors etc.

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R A Brown Heating Services Ltd

R A Brown Heating Services LtdComment left on: 19 June 2013 at 11:04 am

I am also very concerned and aware of this two tier system mentioned above. As we all know in the industry there is nothing more damaging to the reputation of the heat pump industry than an incorrectly sized and or incorrectly installed heat pump. Even though we cannot install all the heat pumps in our geographical area we are passionate that all installs are completed strictly to MCS standards so that more people have a good experience and end up with an efficient heating system that they rave about.

Unfortunately people who move into a new build with a 'site bashed' cheap heat pump may not have this experience and this is very damaging to the emerging industry.

We cannot stress enough the importance of correct sizing and also in retrofits the importance of advising customers up front about re-sizing radiators. We find other companies in our area often seem to avoid this issue. This could lead to customers being faced with an unexpected 'extras' bill or worse an underperforming system.

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