With the Green Deal scheme continuing to be a slow-burner, HVP explains how installers can get accredited to work under the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive

Of all the government incentive schemes designed to boost interest in the renewable energy sector, the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has proved to be one of the most successful.

The domestic RHI was opened for applications on 9 April 2014, enabling homeowners to receive seven years of financial payments in return for having certain renewable heating systems installed in their homes.

Not all installers can get involved in fitting these systems, however. In order for a homeowner’s system to qualify for domestic RHI payments, only certain accredited products can be used, and the system must be fitted by a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified installer. The installation company must also comply with the Renewable Energy Consumer Code (RECC) code of practice.

Many installers have said they are interested in taking on RHI work, but have also expressed confusion about what criteria they have to fulfill in order to become MCS accredited.

There are a number of ways in which installers can get involved in the RHI:

  • Become a certified MCS installation company
  • Work full-time for a certified MCS installation company (the MCS certification is granted to the company, not to individual installers)
  • Become a subcontractor to a certified MCS installation company (additional rules apply for subcontractors – more information on subcontracting can be found online).

In order to become an MCS-certified company, the installer must first apply to an MCS Certification Body. There are a number of such bodies to choose from, and an up-to-date list can be found online at www.microgenerationcertification.org.

What is the RHI?

The domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is a long-term financial support programme designed to boost the uptake of renewable heating by offering participants of the scheme payments to offset the cost of installing low carbon systems.

It is open to homeowners, private landlords, social landlords and self-builders, both on and off the gas grid.

Renewable heating technologies work best in an energy efficient home and those replacing existing heating systems will need to first undertake a Green Deal Assessment, and install loft and cavity wall insulation where appropriate, before they can apply for the RHI.

The domestic RHI will pay the following tariffs per unit of heat generated for seven years, on a quarterly basis.

Government has set the tariffs for each technology at a level that it says reflects the expected cost of renewable heat generation over 20 years.

What is the MCS?

The MCS is a recognised quality assurance scheme introduced to guarantee homeowners that systems installed as part of government incentive schemes such as the RHI or Green Deal offer the highest possible quality.

The MCS comprises a set of written standards containing requirements that apply to all installers, as well as to those technologies deemed eligible for installation.

The scheme covers electricity generating technologies with a capacity of up to 50kw, and heat generating technologies with capacity of up to 45kw.

Since August 2010, all MCS installations must be registered on the MCS Installer Database. Every registered installation has at least one MCS certificate, which contains a unique certification number relevant to that address. This is required for the homeowner to be eligible for the domestic RHI scheme.

Initial assessment

Once an installation company has expressed an interest in becoming certified, the MCS Certification Body will arrange for an assessment to be carried out. This will decide whether or not the company has the technical competence to carry out the work in accordance with the relevant standards.

The areas assessed by the Certification Body include the supply, design, installation, set-to-work, and commissioning of renewable microgeneration technologies under the scheme.

This includes an office assessment, where an inspector will visit the company’s offices to check its policies and procedures, as well as a site visit where a system installation that the company has carried out will be checked.

Once these assessments have been carried out, and if the inspector is satisfied that the company is complying with all the relevant MCS standards, the certification will be granted.

If any concerns are raised, these must then be addressed to the Certification Body’s satisfaction before the
company can be accredited.

Every technology covered by the MCS has a specific standard document that sets out the product, performance and design issues associated with that technology. Installers must be familiar with these documents, and ensure that their design and installation procedures comply with all the information therein. As these standards are continually being reviewed and updated, it is important for installers to ensure they keep up to date with any amendments.

A full list of all installer and technology standards can be found at www.microgenerationcertification.org/mcs-standards/installer-standards.

Quality management systems

As well as assessing a company’s installation practices, the office assessment will also examine its business practices, and the company will be required to have a robust and documented quality management system (QMS) in place.

The full requirements of the QMS can be found online, however some of the key components include:

  • The company must specify a named individual to take responsibility for supervising all MCS activities and liaising with the Certification Body
  • The company must conduct quarterly (at least) reviews to ensure the system is working well, and to deal with any problems that arise. The reviews should consider feedback from staff, suppliers and customers, as well as any complaints or issues arising from inspections. Records of these reviews must be kept
  • The company must have documented procedures for corrective and preventative actions for problems and issues raised
  • Documents produced to meet MCS requirements must be listed and controlled, with unique identities, issue numbers and dates, page numbering and approval
  • Relevant external documents must be kept on file, with a documented mechanism for ensuring the company has access to the latest editions and any amendments. These include up-to-date Building Regulations, Planning Regulations, and Health & Safety Regulations
  • A master list of suppliers of all designs, products, services and materials required for installation work must be established
  • Any subcontracted work must be managed through a formal subcontract agreement, with appropriate procedures to ensure the work is carried out in accordance with relevant MCS standards
  • All key records such as survey documents, quotations, orders/contracts, commissioning checks, employee training, and notifications to the MCS installation database must be kept for a minimum of six years. This also includes internal review records, complaint records, and details of subcontract arrangements and equipment calibration
  • A written complaints procedure must be established, with records kept and any complaints dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

While this may sound daunting, Certification Bodies can offer advice and guidance to installers on how to set up their own QMS, and there are also companies who sell ready-made QMS system templates that installers can purchase and amend for their specific needs.

Ongoing certification

Once an installer is MCS certified, they are issued with a unique registration number which they must give to homeowners who are applying for RHI funding.

Installers must undergo (at least) annual audit and surveillance visits to inspect their work. Certification continues providing no concerns are raised, but annual fees do apply to remain a member of the scheme.

If concerns are raised, or substantiated complaints against the company are received, then additional surveillance visits may be required.

Any changes at the company, such as new technical staff, or amendments to the company name, address or trading status must be notified to the MCS Certification Body within 30 days.

A growing team

At the time of writing, there were 1,784 companies listed as MCS certified for RHI technologies on the MCS website.

Of these, 1,218 can fit solar thermal systems, 580 are biomass-accredited, 916 can install ground source heat pumps and 1,145 are accredited for air source heat pumps.

While there have been many questions raised in the industry about the RHI and the complexity of the route to MCS accreditation, those installers who choose to become certified have access to work in a sector of the market that is likely to continue to grow in the coming months, as awareness of the RHI spreads among the general public.

where to go For more information

www.microgenerationcertification.org – contains full details on MCS standards, subcontracting, how installers can become accredited, and a full list of MCS Certification Bodies and certified installation companies

www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/domestic-renewable-heat-incentive – Ofgem is responsible for the administration of the RHI scheme, including accrediting installations and paying participants for the heat generated.