What MCS-certified installers need to know about the Heat and Buildings Strategy

Ian Rippin, CEO of MCS explores what the government’s long-awaited Heat and Buildings strategy means for MCS-certified installers across the country.  

The government’s strategy sees an overall £3.9bn package of measures, which includes the new Boiler Upgrade Scheme – a £450m fund to be spent on grants that subside upfront costs of heat pumps for owners.  

Formerly known as the Clean Heat Grant, the Boiler Upgrade Scheme will be a successor to the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, which closes at the end of March 2022. 

What MCS-certified installers need to know

  • The Boiler Upgrade Scheme offers £5,000 grants for air-source heat pumps and biomass boilers (but only in rural areas and where biomass replaces fossil fuel systems). 
  • Grants of £6,000 are also available for ground-source heat pumps installations. 
  • The scheme, which covers England and Wales only, will run for three years from 2022 – 2025. It is expected to launch in spring next year. 
  • MCS certification is a requirement of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. TrustMark is not. 
  • The grant isn’t means-tested.
  • It will be delivered via vouchers, with installers able to make grant applications and redeem vouchers for their customers. 

It’s also worth noting that the minimum heat pump SCOP requirement has increased from 2.4 to 2.8. This represents a new minimum and reflects the development of new technology that is becoming ever more efficient. The average minimum SCOP value of the 589 ASHPs that have been certified to the MCS standard over the last three years is 3.24, demonstrating that the majority of newer devices exceed the government policy requirement of 2.8 and above. 

At MCS, we are committed to supporting policies that encourage uptake of domestic renewables, so we broadly welcome the proposals set out by the Heat and Buildings Strategy. 

However, we know the £450m fund for the Boiler Upgrade Scheme equates to 30,000 installations a year through to 2025 – 90,000 in total. This is far short of the government’s target of 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. Therefore, we will continue to call on the Government to increase funding for domestic renewables. 

Let’s look a bit further 

The strategy also tells us many more things about the government’s attitude towards renewables energy technology: 

  • There are limitations placed on biomass boiler installations under the grant scheme, but we know that biomass has a role to play for hard-to-heat properties, especially in rural locations. We are glad to see that biomass has a place in the strategy as it reflects what we see in the market in terms of the profile of installations. 
  • Solar thermal is not included in the grant scheme. We pushed hard in the ‘Clean Heat Grant’ consultation response to ask for solar thermal to be included with appropriately sized grant support; however, this hasn’t been the case unfortunately. Our data shows exponential growth from September 2020 (35 installations) to September 2021 (1,037). We will publish our in-depth thoughts on this shortly. 
  • Non-domestic heat pumps up to 45kWth are eligible for grants under the scheme. This is a positive: we don’t distinguish between domestic or commercial installations; we are focused on small-scale renewables in general. Businesses need decarbonising as much as our homes do. 
  • Other opportunities may be available to installers by way of the government’s £800m Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and the Home Upgrade Grant scheme. Decarbonisation of heat in social housing and the public sector is creating ample opportunities for MCS installers. 
  • There was an announcement of a £60million innovation fund to make heat pumps smaller, easier to install and cheaper to run. Manufacturers of MCS certified products are taking steps to innovate already, and the technology is taking steps forward. We welcome the innovation fund, but it needs to be linked to a growing market otherwise it will be meaningless. 

Protecting standards and influencing policy 

MCS protects the standards of all domestic renewable installations in the UK. We will continue to work with the industry to define, maintain, and improve quality – certifying products and installers so people can have confidence in home-grown energy and the technology that produces it. 

In doing so, we continue to play a vital role in working with the government to ensure its strategies support our certified installers in helping to achieve a low-carbon future. 

Seeing heat pumps at the heart of the new policy is a positive step forward overall. Encouragingly, we have noted that heat pumps are becoming increasingly prevalent across the media – with many national newspapers this week publishing in-depth guides on what they are and how they work. 

Our latest figures show that interest in heat pumps is growing. From 1 January – 30 September 2021, there were 21,451 heat pump installations, up 120% on 2019 (9,719) in the same period. 

We now hope to see the media focus and new grant scheme stimulate even more interest in heat pumps and boost consumer confidence in the technology. 

At the same time, we will continue to push for long-term policies that affect real change in the sector and create a lasting shift towards low-carbon products. There is always more work to be done. 

What’s next? 

We now eagerly await the launch of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and will work with our installers to assist in any form we can, including making MCS certification for new installers as accessible as possible and actively establishing better training opportunities. 

MCS Standards have been simplified and work continues to make them simpler still. We have also created a new Certification Scheme framework for Certification Bodies to work to – offering more consistency to the market and a better experience. We are currently consulting on how our scheme operates in protecting consumers and acknowledge that it needs to be easier to understand, with clearer routes in to access it. 

We aim for the certification scheme to be qualification-led, which has seen investment by MCS in the development of heat pump installation and maintenance courses for already qualified plumbers and heating engineers. In 2022, we will see the launch of a new low-carbon heating technician apprenticeship, which the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education has put on its list. 

Colleges will be able to adopt this new apprenticeship from September next year, and we worked with our installer community to determine the skills needed by the industry. It’s designed to be a specialist route to support the growth of the renewables sector. 

We are currently working on a split of the heat pump standard to separate out design and installation. This is to recognise the way the sector operates in practice, so installers can fit systems that have been designed by a qualified practitioner. We are also working with the University of Exeter to develop a level 4/5 course in heat pump design skills, which we will provide updates on in due course. 

In all, the future for the renewables sector is bright and we will continue to support our installers’ interests to ensure policy and practice work as well as they can.