Andrew Ogden, Head of the Technical team at Kingspan Water & Energy, highlights how a decline in traditional home heating fuels combined with new legislation and the power of public opinion present new opportunities for heating engineers.
It’s no secret that the days of fossil fuels are numbered. The UK’s power stations are due to generate their last megawatt of coal in 2024 after providing only 1.33% of Britain’s energy in 2020; whilst wind power soared to 24.6%.
Staggeringly, looking back only ten years to 2010, those figures were 30.04% and 3.01% respectively.
The other fossil fuel behemoth, gas, has also seen a decline in the last decade, providing 46.92% of Britain’s energy in 2010 compared to 34.39% in 2020.
The public viewpoint has also evolved. Opinion polls taken in 2019 found that people believed the environment was the fourth most important issue facing the UK, and a record 80% of people said they were concerned or very concerned about climate change. Even the language has started to shift, moving from, “climate change” to a “climate crisis” or “climate emergency”.
Public opinion and the reduced focus on fossil fuels can all make the path to a carbon neutral UK more likely. But it’s legislation and incentives that will make the prospect a reality for many. For the plumbing and heating industry, the change will translate to more energy efficient domestic heating systems that offer reliability, control, and the levels of comfort people expect.
Here we’ll look in more detail at three areas where greener home heating systems have the potential to provide heating engineers with new market opportunities.
The new house build sector
We already know that new build homes will not be connected to the gas grid from 2025, as recommended by the Committee for Climate Change in their “UK housing: Fit for the Future?” 2019 report.
And then there’s future changes to Part L1A of the Building Regulations5, which mean the average home “will have 75-80% less carbon emissions than one built to current energy efficiency requirements.” Scheduled to come into force in 2025, this may yet move forward when the results of the 2019-20 Future Homes Standard consultation6 are published.
In addition, housebuilders themselves will have to meet future Standard Assessment Procedure legislation (SAP10)7 standards, which will place a major focus on energy-efficient heating systems as part of the overall SAP score that determines whether a new development gets planning permission in the first place.
For installers, the reality of these legislative changes is that technologies supporting lower carbon emissions, such as heat pumps, solar panels and the like will come to the fore. Housebuilders will be increasingly geared up to check installers’ credentials in these new technologies too, backed up by NHBC insurance requirements for those installing greener home heating systems to be registered with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and therefore be able to demonstrate proof of competence, such as an accredited training course.
Installers stalling over training and MCS registration could well end up being left behind by competitors who are carving a niche in this new market.
The domestic repair, maintenance and improvement sector
The home improvements sector has had a boost in 2020, with 65% of UK homeowners investing in renovations since lockdown, according to the 2020 Renovation Nation Report9.
Awareness of more energy efficient heating systems have also been boosted with the launch of the Green Homes Grant10 in England.
The Grant encourages landlords and homeowners to boost the energy efficiency of their property through a voucher scheme with approved installers and which can fund two-thirds of costs, up to £5,000.
Low carbon heating systems such as air source and ground source heat pumps feature prominently, as do additional secondary improvements such as insulation and thermostats for hot water tanks and heating controls. To be able to carry out work for the Green Homes Grant, installers need to be Trustmark and MCS registered.
For heating installers, the Green Homes Grant could provide immediate and future opportunities with homeowners and landlords who are looking for heating system upgrades in two ways. There are those who are ready to have improvements carried out between now and when the Grant ends in March 2021; and still more who will have now researched the types of low carbon heating system on offer with a view to the future, perhaps when new incentives are available.
The private and social rental sectors
Private and social landlords haven’t been left out in the drive towards greener home heating.
The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for private sector landlords in England and Wales already state that rented properties should have a minimum of a Band E Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), enforceable by local authorities. A similar system is under consultation in Scotland.12
Standards will only increase, as the Government ambition is for EPC Band C to be the minimum requirement by 2030. Similarly, social housing – which accounts for 17% of the UK’s housing stock – has consultations and legislation geared towards meeting EPC Band C by 2030.
That means a lot of future work for heating installers, as over 12 million English and Scottish Homes are currently rated EPC Band D; and an additional 4 million Band E13. There’s a real opportunity for installers to build up relationships with landlords and letting agencies and pitch themselves as low carbon heating experts.
It remains to be seen whether the normalisation of greener energies in Britain’s homes will come from a desire to protect the planet or the need to comply with new legislation.
Regardless, Kingspan’s advice to heating installers would be to get ready now! By becoming MCS registered and having the knowledge to be able to advise on, install and maintain heat pumps, solar, or other low carbon heating systems, installers will be putting themselves in the best place possible to take advantage of future trends: no matter what inspired it.