What you should know when buying an eco-boiler – WHA Chair Neil Harrison explains

This blog was originally posted on the ITV Central News website on the 3rd October 2019.

Neil Harrison (Chair) Director re:heat

Neil Harrison (WHA Chair)
Director re:heat

As the recent case of mis-selling of a biomass boiler to a couple in Derby highlighted, it’s not just companies offering pension transfers, computer tune-ups and other complicated products and services that are using sharp practices and false promises to hook in the unwary.  Technology which is designed to heat our homes and businesses without contributing to climate change has also seen unscrupulous companies take advantage of consumers’ desire to help reduce carbon emissions and heating bills.

Since the introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive in November 2011, and the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive in April 2014, around 92,000 renewable heating systems have been fitted in homes and businesses up and down Great Britain.  Supported by 7 years of financial payments for domestic systems, and 20 years for those in commercial premises, the RHI has helped to deliver the highest ever number of renewable heating installations.

The RHI has been a key part of government energy policy, and it’s absolutely vital that we use both this and other tools to increase the amount of renewable heating in the UK, which is currently languishing at just 7% of our total heat.  A very sobering fact when you consider that heating buildings and processes accounts for around 37% of the UK’s total carbon emissions – more than either electricity production or transport.

The RHI scheme is complex, in fact it’s so complex that a leading civil servant once called it a “regulatory monster”, meaning it has been fertile territory for companies seeking to make a fast buck from unwary homeowners and business owners.  And while we’re past the peak rate of installations that were observed a few years ago, it’s certainly the case that conditions still exist for mis-selling.

The nature of the RHI, which involves the owner of the system effectively entering into a contract with the Government via the regulator – Ofgem, means there are certain requirements and obligations placed on the owner of the equipment.  The good news is that if you meet these obligations, you will receive payments in return for making the switch to a low carbon heating option.  The Government is paying you to avoid carbon emissions – effectively the reverse of the carbon taxes on fossil fuels which are common elsewhere in the world.

Not meeting the obligations set out in the RHI has some fairly serious consequences, so there are certain things you should do to protect yourself from falling foul of the regulations, and of course, mis-selling :

  1. If you’re looking at a domestic system, ensure that your installed is on the most up to date MCS list : https://mcscertified.com/find-an-installer/
  2. Again for domestic systems, make sure that your installer is registered with a consumer protection scheme such as the Renewable Energy Consumer Code : recc.org.uk
  3. As you would do if you were having a new bathroom fitted or your driveway paved, speak to other people who have had a biomass or other renewable heating system installed, and at the very least ask an installer for reference sites you can visit and speak to a previous customer.

The picture for commercial systems is a little trickier, as there are no real safeguards or standards in place to protect organisations looking to move to renewable heating options, and it’s very much a case of caveat emptor – buyer beware!  There are still a few simple common sense measures you can take to protect yourself :

  1. Get quotes from a number of suppliers and compare what each is proposing – if there are glaring differences or something doesn’t quite add up, challenge them to justify what they have put in their quote;
  2. For a larger scheme, consider employing an experienced consultant or engineer to come up with a specification on your behalf. Then use that to procure the system that you need – not what someone wants to sell you;
  3. Use companies who are registered with a kitemark or customer protection scheme, or who are a member of a professional body or trade association such as the Wood Heat Association : woodheatassociation.org.uk or Ground Source Heat Pump Association : www.gshp.co.uk;
  4. Make sure you check out a number of their previous installations – speak to the business owners and make sure their experience is a positive one.

As with anything in life, if doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right, and be sure not to believe the salesman with the story of something that’s too good to be true – it’s rarely, if ever, what they make it out to be.