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Advise column: Ian Stares, PTS, outlines the four key areas installer must pay heed to before taking the plunge into renewables

It’s all very well saying more installers need to get into installing renewable technologies, but for many it remains a leap into the dark.  Ian Stares, product group manager for renewables and green energy products at PTS, says there are four key steps installers must take before they take the plunge.

The market for domestic heating products and in particular renewable technologies is nothing if not dynamic. Dramatic changes to the legislative landscape, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, the introduction of new tariffs for the generation of renewable energy and technologies which fall outside of the traditional installer’s comfort zone are all making significant impact.

Take the Green Deal for example.  When first introduced by the government it was very much an insulation package, but over the course of the last twelve months it has gradually evolved into a more rounded package which will offer consumers high efficiency boilers and possibly renewables.

What’s more, the different ways of financing renewable installations are developing all the time.  The renewable installer needs to not only be able to install the technologies but also advise customers how to pay for it.

What’s more the changes appear to be increasingly a part of everyday life.  It is not at all uncommon nowadays to see solar panels on domestic homes as solar photovoltaic (PV) sales have been rocketing since the introduction of the Feed-in Tariff in April 2010. 

Installers can be forgiven if they find the pace of change dizzying and it is clear that many remain uncommitted to the renewable future.  There are still too few trained installers, circa 3,000 in the UK, which is clearly providing a barrier for growth of renewable technologies. 

The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) is still seen in many quarters as a barrier and there have been a number of instances where even MCS trained installers have encountered problems with installations.  However it is clear that MCS is essential for installer training if the financial incentives are to be claimed.   

All of this does little to encourage installers into renewables, but the key message is that support is there to help you. My view is that there are four key steps installers must take to get into renewables:

1:  Get on an MCS course

Like it or not MCS is an essential ingredient to get into renewables but it is not enough on its own.  The key issue with MCS is that it gives the installer access to a range of incentives which can help the consumer finance renewable technologies.  You can’t access the incentives without the accreditation.  Installers need to decide which technologies they will concentrate on and get the appropriate MCS accreditation.  The key technologies to focus on are air to water and air to air heat pumps, solar thermal, solar PV and ground source heat pumps and possibly biomass.

2:  Get on a specific manufacturer training course

An MCS course on its own is not enough. My advice to installers is to supplement MCS with a specific manufacturer training course.

There are a number of excellent training courses from quality manufacturers.  Installers should do their research and determine the key issues expected on installation of each type of technology. This is especially relevant for heat pumps where heat loss calculations are vital to ensure a well designed and properly installed system.

3:  Align yourself to a merchant that offers on-going support

Merchants to some extent could be viewed as a supermarket. On our shelves are various brands which the installer can pick and choose from, but the big difference is that the best merchants will be able to offer informed and knowledge advice on products and brands. 

For example, I am spending a large percentage of my time at the moment advising installers on one of the big issues being faced when installing heat pump technologies, namely inadequate insulation, incorrect heat pump sizing or a lack of attention being given to heat emitters, such as radiators.

The key point is to align yourself with a merchant who offers on-going support and can act a source of advice and knowledge.

4.  Go to a merchant with a track record in renewables

Different builder’s merchants across the UK are at different stages of development of their renewables offering.  Some, like PTS, are helping to shape legislation and are supporting installers on the ground with dedicated renewables branches like PTS Aylesford in Kent.  PTS was the first merchant to acknowledge the importance of renewables and set up Aylesford to advise, inform and train installers. PTS is also rolling out  a network of renewables specialist branches in strategic locations across the UK.   

The best merchants are providing added-value for merchants with access to a wide range of renewables products, advice and training from a merchant who “knows what they are doing”.  This, in my opinion, will be a key factor in guaranteeing success for installers looking to make the move into renewables.

Conclusions

There are enormous opportunities for installers who want to get into renewables, but it is clear that you will not be able to do it on your own.  Good training and on-going advice you can tap into at a moment’s notice will help smooth your way, but be sure you are taking that advice from people who know what they are talking about.

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