MCS can be a force for good

As a prerequisite of eligibility for the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive, MCS accreditation is more important to the success of the renewables industry than ever before, says Nancy Jonsson

The UK Government’s announcement of the long-awaited domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) tariffs in July, was not merely a demonstration of its commitment to renewable energy. It was also a commitment to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), because projects will only be eligible for RHI payments when the installation is carried out by a MCS accredited installer, using products certified under the scheme.

Critics of MCS certification argue that the time and investment required to get accredited is simply not worth the benefits it brings, particularly as the delays in the RHI announcement meant the predicted growth in the renewables market has not yet materialised.

It is true that the number of installers becoming accredited or maintaining their registrations has fallen. However, at the end of June 2013 there were 3,881 MCS installers, many of which, according to MCS were “extending the scope of the work they do; current installers on the scheme have diversified and adapted in a rapidly changing industry”. Of the nearly 485,000 installations registered on the MCS database at the end of June, 36,000 were heating installations.

Regardless of the numbers, MCS is still deemed, by Government at least, to be the best way of guaranteeing installers and installations achieve high standards. MCS standards are currently the only way to ensure installers meet Permitted Development rules and ensure running cost savings in every project. This is vital to both encourage consumer confidence and make sure that the renewables industry can help the UK achieve its ambitious 2020 targets.

Revised MCS installer standards for heat pump systems were introduced in 2012, in response to a number of field trials, which showed installers needed clearer guidance and support to enable them to achieve the highest system performances. The revisions aimed to ensure installers understood the requirement that a heat pump should be selected to cover 100% of the heat load at defined outdoor and indoor temperature criteria, reducing the risk of an incorrect heat pump being selected.

The standards are also designed to give householders reassurance that their systems meet the highest criteria and that they are fully aware of the characteristics of the system they will own for the next 15 or so years. To this end, a Heat Emitter Guide was published to help explain the impact of emitter selection and design flow temperature on the estimated heating system efficiency to the homeowner.

Whether down to MCS or not, improved standards will undoubtedly help raise the energy efficiency of heat pump installations, as demonstrated by the findings of the Energy Saving Trust’s most recent field trials in August, The heat is on: Heat pump field trials (Phase 2).

Jaryn Bradford, senior technical manager at the Energy Saving Trust, said: “From the study, it is clear that heat pumps are sensitive to design, commissioning and how the householder uses the system. However, the performance monitoring trials have provided early indications that the introduction of improved installation standards, among other things, will lead to improved performance.”

The whole ethos behind MCS is that if systems are designed and installed correctly, end users will be more satisfied, the reputation of renewables will be enhanced and the market will grow, which is surely good for everyone.

The MCS heat technology working groups are reviewing the standards ahead of the launch of the domestic RHI. As part of this, MCS is planning to introduce a requirement for a commissioning document which installers will need to complete for all installations.

Improving MCS standards is just one of the ways that many manufacturers, installers and industry bodies are working to build a robust platform for the growth of the renewables industry.

Take, for example, the recent successful industry campaign to urge Government to increase Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) vouchers to encourage uptake of renewable technology in the wake of the postponement of the start of the domestic RHI to spring 2014. This resulted in the grants for air-to-water heat pumps rising from £850 to £1,300 and for solar thermal from £300 to £600. At such a critical time for the industry, this important hard work must continue.

Despite the financial incentives and the obvious advantages over traditional fossil fuel boilers, choosing a renewable heating system is still a leap of faith for many homeowners. The domestic RHI, alongside the increased RHPP payments, is undoubtedly a good thing for industry.

As an integral part of the domestic RHI, MCS is clearly here to stay and will play a key role in growing opportunities in the renewables market. As a result, industry should embrace MCS as an agent for growth, rather than viewing it as a bureaucratic obstacle.

• Nancy Jonsson is product manager, heating and renewables at Daikin UK


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