A major barrier facing the development of a viable heat pumps industry in the UK is the very bureaucracy that the Government has been using to (allegedly) promote it. Despite being safer and certainly a lot more ecologically friendly, heat pump installations are loaded with at least three times the regulatory controls as the gas boiler industry. I asked heat pump installer Brendan Uys from the company Heacol about what steps could be taken to increase the number of MCS accredited heat pump installation personnel. He responded by saying:
It is very simple, make the certification process the same, or similar to Gas Safe and make the manufacturers responsible for training, quality and performance levels. If the manufacturer declares an SPF (Seasonal Performance Factor – how much heat is produced from the electrical input) for their heat pump, they must put their money where their mouth is and evidence it. The performance level must form part of the warranty. If it does not perform, then the manufacturer must fix it under the goods of sales act. You will find that very quickly, the quality of installations will suddenly improve overnight.
The operation and installation of condensing gas boilers should be treated in the same way to level the playing field.
The manufacturers have promoted a highly bureaucratic system which is exceptionally expensive to run (impossible for a sole trader plumber on his own) consisting of MCS, Consumer code and a governing body. The current system is not fit for purpose and is exceptionally expensive. They have done this to to hide behind and distance themselves from liability. During the Covid lockdown, we worked out what the compliance had cost us over the entire life of the RHI to date, enabling our clients to benefit from the grant and came up with a figgure of just over £2500.00 per installation. During this time, we installed over 500 installations and we only install heat pumps. As said before, a sole trader cannot affford this.
I cannot understand why, a heat pump installer that is installing a safe product is required to be a member of 3 different organisations, all with their own fees, onerous management systems and requirements and 2 audits per year. Whilst a the same installer, installing a highly dangerous, flamable, explosive product (gas and oil) only requires the membership of a single, low cost, light touch, risk based auditing organisation. It cannot be blamed on the distribution system as they both require the same system to be efficient.
As said above, if we are going to grow the installer base, the regulation and certification has to change. If you were able to analyse the MCS installer database, you will find that many thousands of small installers have already tried it, dropped it and will never go back to it in it’s current state.’
The equipment costs for heat pumps are actaully quite modest – for example a particularly widespread used heat pump model, the 12 kW Samsung, has a wholesale price of just £3000. The rest of the system consists of no more than some tanks, copper piping and radiators not greatly dissimilar to that which are used in the conventional natural gas heating sector. There’s absolutely no reason why heat pumps can’t be fitted in all new homes for little or no extra costs compared to fitting gas boilers when you take into account the fact that new houses fitted with heat pumps do not have to pay to be connected up to the nearest gas distribution point.
edited by David Toke