Mark Krull looks at how installers can determine which renewables are right for their business and the types of customers each will attract

The domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is proving to be a successful scheme, with nearly 5,000 accredited applications as of September. To meet the demand, many heating and plumbing installers are making the move to the greener side of the tracks.

Renewables are not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, however, and before investing in training, installers should consider which technologies will best suit their business and customer-base.

Heat Pumps
Heat pumps aren’t suitable for every home, working best in well-insulated buildings, ideally with underfloor heating – a good choice in a newbuild home. Heat pumps are unlikely to lower the heating costs of a home already using a high efficiency gas boiler so will predominantly be RHI approved for homes relying on LPG, oil or electricity.

Ground source heat pumps need plenty of outside space and are therefore most suited to larger properties; they also have a higher initial outlay. Air source heat pumps will be more practical for the majority of homes and are arguably the best renewable heat option for smaller properties looking to benefit from the RHI.

Many existing heating installers could also become heat pump installers; particularly of the air source variety. Ground source heat pump customers will predominantly be based in rural areas with large homes, whereas with off-gas smaller properties, air source heat pumps are more likely to meet the needs of a greater proportion of the UK.

Solar Thermal
The main criteria for a solar thermal customer is having a south-facing roof in good enough condition to mount the panels – anything facing between south east and south west is fine (for some applications they can also be mounted at ground level). Shade on the panels at any time of day will reduce the performance.

Solar water heating is only suitable for properties that use hot water for bathing – electric showers won’t use solar heated water, nor will washing machines or dishwashers. Solar panels are compatible with most existing hot water systems, the customer will just need a new cylinder to store the heated water.

Solar panels will not generate hot water all year round and therefore RHI repayments can be claimed in conjunction with biomass or heat pumps. As solar thermal is not a total heating solution, most homes may be eligible for it, as long as their roof situation is suitable, making it a viable business option for many installers. With some homes able to claim the RHI for solar thermal in conjunction with another technology, ideally, solar thermal installers should consider offering one or more of the additional heat-based renewables, depending on their customer base.

Biomass boilers tend to be larger than the gas or oil equivalent and are therefore suitable for people who have space for storage.

Existing out-buildings are ideal, or some customers may need a purpose-built plant room if there is not a free area within a building. The initial outlay of a biomass system is quite high, but the returns are good, particularly for larger properties. For smaller homes, there is the option of choosing a biomass pellet stove with a back boiler.

In addition to the boiler and associated equipment, fuel will also need to be stored in a dry, well-ventilated area. This fuel storage area also needs to be accessible for a delivery lorry – wood pellets can be delivered loose and blown into a hopper, or in bags on a pallet. Having a local fuel supplier is very important as the cost will increase if it has to be delivered from further afield.

As with heat pumps, the savings are not that great when switching from mains gas, so biomass is predominantly an option for off-gas homes under the RHI.

The majority of biomass installers will be based in rural locations as, in the main, wood heating is not a practical solution for inner-city areas.

Pellet boilers are the most popular choice at the moment, as the fuel takes up less space than logs, arrives in the correct state to burn and creates minimal ash.

Reviewing your options
There are a number of training courses available for those who wish to take up a renewable technology. These may require the installer to hold certain qualifications already, such as a level 3 NVQ in plumbing, or a HETAS or OFTEC certificate. Training courses from different providers will vary in terms of content, cost and duration, as well as the level of qualification they are worth. It is important to choose a trusted provider that offers industry-recognised qualifications in order to ensure installations meet MCS and government scheme standards.

If you’re still unsure as to which renewables are right for your business, Logic4Training provides an introduction to renewables, giving an overview of all of the main technologies, which can be put towards a full technical qualification.

Mark Krull is director for Logic Certification