The domestic RHI – one year on

With biomass responsible for over half of all new dRHI applications, installers needn’t wait any longer to start offering these products to their customers, says Robert Burke of HETAS

It’s just over 12 months since the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was launched.

Since the launch we have been pleasantly surprised by how much funding has been allocated to support biomass users. Over half of accredited installations have been for biomass. It was always felt that the big market for biomass would be off-gas grid and in areas where oil and LPG were seen as expensive options and high carbon solutions. At the time of the launch the general feel within the renewables industry was that solar thermal, heat pumps and biomass would each take a reasonable share of the domestic RHI money.

But the RHI is open to everyone to apply, not just those in off-gas areas, and heat pumps could be an option for urban areas with town houses where there is not so much space. However they do present certain installation challenges including limited hot water temperatures which could require larger radiators on an existing system. There’s also the issue of using electricity from a grid that is not yet low carbon. Solar thermal has its place and is often seen as a great partner for biomass so that summer and winter conditions can be met with a combination of low or zero carbon solutions.

Whilst the original commercial RHI for larger installations supported mainly biomass with something like 95 percent of RHI money supporting this technology, we didn’t initially think that domestic biomass would get anywhere near that sort of percentage. The latest RHI report from DECC which includes figures up to December 2014 says that 56 percent of new applications for domestic RHI have been for biomass with 53 percent approved at that time. For all heat-pumps the figure was 32 percent and for solar thermal it was 13 percent. The figures for legacy applications present a very different picture with heat-pumps leading, solar thermal next then biomass. This shows that once the details of the scheme had been announced formally and regulation was adopted, biomass became much more popular.

So what about the appliances and the installers. At the time of the last official figures there were 5147 biomass installations. Today there are 814 MCS approved biomass products and 804 approved MCS installers. Not all of the installers are very active in the market whilst others are very busy. As biomass becomes the more popular choice a small number of installers are struggling to cope with an increasing demand. For gas and oil installers wanting to take advantage of the growing market, now is the time to take the training to convert existing skills to biomass and to get their MCS certification.

Many installers are having great success by seeking support from Easy MCS and from the specialist MCS schemes that concentrate on being really focused on one or two areas of the market. It is also proving very successful and increases the chances of a great installation where installers get trained by specific manufacturers who also help with installation design. These sort of collaborative relationships reduce errors and increase the likelihood of poor installations or unhappy customers.

As for fuel the Biomass Suppliers List (BSL) has now been established and suppliers are able to register and sell fuel that proves the customer is buying sustainably thus meeting a requirement of RHI. There is still some work to do on the BSL but progress is being made and much good work has already been achieved.