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Discussing the future of renewable heat

We were joined by a number of industry experts from installer firms, manufacturers and Ofgem as we hosted the Clean Energy News Renewable Heat roundtable at our London office in February.

Taking place on the day that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) released the latest figures for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and set against a significant reduction in the number of applications for small biomass boilers, the event was well-placed to consider the mood across the sector.

The latest figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recorded just eight new installations, a dramatic drop of over 95% from the previous month, but what has caused this?

It would seem that a decrease in the number of installers for technologies such as air source heat pumps and biomass systems is responsible for the falling number of applications under the RHI. With this creating a 'log-jam' in terms of capability, the industry needs to convince installers currently just fitting gas boilers of the benefits of alternative systems in order to get the level of uptake necessary. 

Technologies such as air source heat pumps have failed to build momentum under the RHI - is this putting the UK's climate change targets at risk? During the discussion, Tim Pollard, head of sustainability at Wolseley suggested that to reduce emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, the UK should currently be installing 180,000 heat pumps a year. 

This is in stark contrast to the recent figures released by DECC which suggest that only around 8,000 air source heat pumps have been installed under the domestic RHI since 2014 and less than 1,800 ground source systems are receiving tariffs. In addition, deployment using support from the non-domestic scheme only equates to a few hundred more of both systems. 

Carbon budgets have been defined out to 2050. With a big gap between the current reality and where we need to be, and what is realistically a relatively short period of time to close this gap, we need to look to the future and consider what can be done now to increase deployment of this technology.  

One solution might be to increase tariffs, which could help to boost technologies struggling to grow under the current scheme, but it would seem that other factors are also hampering growth. 

The MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme), which acts as a certification and accreditation for both installers and technologies under the RHI, is seen as a key issue. While the concept of the MCS is thought to be sound, doubt has been cast over the effectiveness and structure of the scheme.

Change may be on the way however and with Ofgem’s response to a recent consultation on how to judge an equivalent scheme due, there could soon be an alternative to the MCS.

One thing that is clear is that the industry feels strongly that such a scheme should promote the industry in a similar way to the Gas Safe register scheme. Indeed during the discussion, Mark Krull, director of Logic Certification, pointed to the need for a key performance indicator to be written into the scheme which would require it to promote and communicate with its installers.

Renewable heat technologies could play an important part in meeting the UK's climate change targets and there is undeniably an appetite to make this an effective technology. The question though still remains - will reduced feed-in-tariffs, the impediments of MCS and the appetite of traditional installers prove to be too much of a barrier?  

Contributor: Jack Lewis

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