RHI – when will they learn?

Jeff House, Marketing & Applications Manager for Baxi Commercial, considers the apparent restraints on both contractors and installers able to help implement the achievement of the Government RHI policy aims. 

The way in which we design, construct and service our buildings is rapidly changing. Whether brought about by legislative pressure, efficiency savings, incentive schemes or technological advance, the industry is faced with an ever evolving challenge to deliver finished assets which meet both regulatory and client demands. In the building services sector this challenge is epitomised by the growth in low to zero carbon technologies (LZC) and the ever increasing complexity of systems, evidenced by the multiple fuel sources with a variety of different technology types that are now commonplace in many new build schemes. It is claimed that providing heat and hot water for our buildings represents around half of the energy used in the UK each year. When coupled with associated CO2 emissions it is clear why our sector is under such pressure regarding the efficiency of delivered systems.

As will be apparent from looking through the adjoining pages, the heating products needed to achieve overarching Government aims of carbon reduction and energy saving are readily available. Indeed, leading manufacturers are able to offer a range of solutions including CHP, biomass, heat pumps and solar thermal. The real challenge rests with their appropriate application and operation. Competent and properly trained installation practitioners are absolutely essential to the success of any project, but appropriate training is even more critical when dealing with bi or tri- vailant systems incorporating LZC technologies.

This is reflected in the level of certification required for compliance with certain industry and Government schemes and against this background, the role of the building services contractor is becoming ever more diverse and demanding.

High performance

Clearly, contractors will always strive to deliver high performance standards, seeking to keep the customer’s door firmly shut in the face of the so called cowboy opportunists who, although small in number, are a lingering blight on a highly skilled profession. The certification requirements in the case of renewable technology applications effectively discourage this minority, whilst encouraging the aspiring majority.

This unity of purpose and outcomes is made possible by the centrally funded initiatives intended to encourage all energy users to greatly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. In particular, RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) and the Green Deal both provide financial inducements, the majority of which can only apply to installations covered by the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme). MCS certification standards require all those involved in the installation process to be trained and competent in the disciplines and skills relevant to their role.

For example, to be eligible for RHI accreditation and tariff payments In the case of biomass, solar thermal, heat pumps and biogas technology installations of 45kWth or less, the installation company must have MCS certification, or an equivalent, at the time of installation. Where solar thermal products are installed, the CEN Solar Keymark Scheme is the recognised equivalent certification.

MCS certification requires that all staff employed on installation activities must have adequate training in each of the technology areas in which they are involved. Records of training received and qualifications or certificates obtained must be kept, together with details of each MCS related activity for which each individual is approved on the basis of their competence. There is a wide spread of acceptable types of training defined for the LZC technologies involved, ranging across NVQ certification, training course accreditation, membership of a competent person scheme, manufacturer’s training, experience with a mentor, specific technology based certification and a verifiable track record of successful installations.

Worker competence

For established contractors, it is reassuring that experienced worker competence is given such significance, but it is equally clear that this must be based on best practice procedures, which all industries apply, as well as adequate LZC training. In this regard, manufacturers are able to assist with accredited Continuous Professional Development (CPD) modules and installer training specific to their products. It is to the mutual benefit of all concerned that such specialist training facilities, where available, are used and that employment based training is also provided, as MCS certification takes a holistic view of the installer company. There is no doubt that the effectiveness of the approach to training currently being taken by manufacturers and installation companies, so clearly understood in MCS certification assessments, is a powerful driver towards achieving long term carbon reduction targets. However, this happy outcome is being endangered by red tape and bureaucracy.

When launched in November 2011, RHI was expected to result in an average of approximately 10,500 new LZC accreditations each year through to 2020. Ofgem statistics show that 1,900 applications for accreditation were made during the first 15 months of the scheme, with barely 1,250 being granted. This low level of successful applications and installations has had a disheartening effect on what was a buoyant and burgeoning market, as during that same period the number of LZC contractors with MCS certification that wished to remain in the scheme reduced by some 13%.

Ofgem, which is responsible for administering RHI in line with DECC policies, admits that its processes needed improvement, which is under way. However, this has not yet significantly reduced the high number of applications that are returned for clarification or correction, some 30%, which must surely have a lot to do with the complexity of the application document.

Detrimental effect

Bureaucratic delay over the full implementation of both RHI and the Green Deal is having a detrimental effect on the achievement of energy efficiency goals and is thwarting industry efforts to provide the essential installation infrastructure. The red tape obstacles that appear to be impeding those applications that can be made are worsening the situation. Sarah Wicks, Head of Education and Training at the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) reaffirms that the sector has the skills to deliver the solutions needed to meet the Government’s carbon commitments. “Our competent craftspeople fully understand the demands of the whole service package and how this – integrated with the correctly selected and installed renewable technology – will deliver the total building solution, including cost and energy savings,” said Ms Wicks. “Sadly, in too many cases, indecision and bureaucracy are holding them back and they are being prevented from carrying out this crucial role.”

As an industry, and indeed as a nation, we need schemes such as the RHI and Green Deal to help drive the uptake of low carbon technologies, but in order for these to flourish it is essential that access is not hampered by unnecessary red tape. If LZC solutions are to deliver anywhere near the level of market penetration needed to achieve overall Government policy aims, it surely makes sense to remove bureaucratic obstacles as quickly as possible. This will free up contractors, enabling them to implement these systems, using the LZC skills and expertise derived from the training processes, in many cases outstanding, in which manufacturers and installer companies have invested.

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