The government’s recently published blueprint for the future of energy – Powering Up Britain – was short on promises of extra cash to boost home insulation funding or even new ideas, but it at least reinforced a commitment to installing heat pumps as a way to reduce energy bills.
Extending the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to 2028 – offering a grant of up to £5,000 for anyone buying a heat pump – might help towards its target of installing 600,000 heat pump systems every year by then. However, there’s a fair way to go as the House of Lords recently declared meeting this target was extremely unlikely, given that fewer than 8,000 vouchers had been redeemed under the scheme in the last year. The government also flagged up its £30 million Heat Pump Investment Accelerator to help bring in private investment – although the accelerator and the money had been announced a year ago. Another announcement in the blueprint, a rebranding of the ECO+ scheme as the Great British Insulation Scheme, although welcome, will only help insulate 300,000 of the poorest performing homes, without any extra money.
At least there was more concrete news on training. Along with its plans for a Net Zero and Nature Workforce Action Plan in 2024 to study how it can support new skills as green industries grow, the government proposed new Skills Bootcamps. We’ll have at least 35 different bootcamp courses across England supporting greener construction, transport, and green energy and industry sectors by the end of the year, and there’s also the promise that net zero and green careers will be considered in all relevant current and proposed careers campaigns across government and industry. It sounds positive, but I fear there are still failings in training provision that need to be addressed. With the government’s repeated promotion of heat pumps, heat loss assessor training courses illustrate how good intentions don’t always translate into positive action.
When installing a heat pump or heating system, an assessment on the building is necessary to understand the heat loss and heat demand so you can work out what size heating plant to install. Done properly, assessors calculate the figures room by room using the U-value (the rate of heat transfer through the building’s wall). After inputting the data into the software, you can determine the heat demand for the dwelling and hence boiler size, which is vital as, while a heat pump will work in every house, determining how to get the best out of it and improve running costs is the real skill.
The government wants to create an army of accredited assessors who can support heating installation firms, who in turn will be in a position to do more installations. It has provided funding for training companies to deliver heat loss assessor training courses for just £80 instead of the usual £1,600. As a result, we are now getting level 3 energy assessors, ‘the tick box brigade’, who finish this training without a good understanding of heat loss or values. They’ll do a heat loss test simply by filling in an excel spreadsheet, and charge £400 for it – not a bad return on an £80 investment. In the same way that we know many domestic energy assessors don’t understand what a cavity wall is but are happy to charge for their ‘expertise’, we’re going to end up with an army of heat loss assessors able to do heat loss calculations but very little else. It seems that we’re retraining people for the war on retrofit but are sending them into battle with a gun and no ammunition.
I fear that this newly qualified army’s poor advice could cause householders problems with their heating further down the line. Many of these assessors, particularly the part-timers and one-man-bands, probably don’t even have their own professional indemnity insurance which means we could see insurers dealing with the fallout when householders and landlords find fault. I’m obviously not against training courses or heat pumps, it’s the focus on price I object to. The government previously funded training for energy assessors when EPCs were introduced, focused on keeping the price low – and 15 years later that still seems to be the message. Similarly, it’s not about ripping off the consumer, but it is about delivering a service at the right price with the right level of knowledge, understanding and expertise.
I’ll be interested to see what the newly formed Energy Efficiency Taskforce comes up with as it works towards reducing energy demand from buildings and industry by 15% on 2021 levels by 2030. It has apparently met for the first time to discuss green finance, the resolution of supply chain issues and changing consumer behaviour. It’s also looking at how to stimulate the supply chain to address and increase investment, reduce skills gaps and accelerate pathways to accreditation. Sounds promising, and hopefully a step towards the ultimate aim of Powering up Britain – but throwing funding at training without considering the bigger picture isn’t the way to go about it. If courses are devalued, we risk jeopardising careers, homeowners’ retrofit journey and the sector’s reputation.