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Guest Blogger

According to the briefing prepared by the REA (the Renewable Energy Association), the long awaited proposals for the Renewable Heat Incentive are expected this week.  Following slowly on from the FIT (feed in tariff), the RHI is expected to apply the long-term tariff approach of the FIT to heat generated from renewables, such as biomass.  The REA say that this is a world first that other countries may wish to emulate.  It will give the industry confidence to develop within a long-term stable framework – just what all players in the energy efficiency industry always ask for.  So what’s not to like?

Well, like the FIT, there’s the question of unkind treatment of early adopters – those who had already installed the technology prior to the start of the programme, and who therefore miss out.  To alleviate this to an extent, the Government has previously stated that those who install systems after 15 July 2009, the date the Government's Renewable Energy Strategy was published, will be able to claim RHI payments as long as the scheme's conditions are met.  Of course, as we don’t yet know the conditions, complying with them might be difficult – but we live in hope!

Secondly, the incentive has been criticised as encouraging waste.  The argument goes that if people are paid per unit of fuel used for using renewable fuel, they will simply “burn” more and let the heat go to waste.  For this reason, at least at the domestic and small business level, the proposal is that the RHI will be paid for a “deemed” amount, rather than the actual amount of fuel used.

Here’s where the interest for DEAs really kicks in! I understand that the deeming will be done using SAP and RdSAP.  SAP2009 and RdSAP2009 will include the facility to calculate the annual demand for space heating and water heating, worksheet (98) and (64) respectively, i.e. the heat to be provided by the heating system, and this has been done in preparation for the RHI.

Well, what else could they have done?  Apparently there was discussion over whether a simple “look up” table could be used, giving a rough estimate of the heating requirements for properties in different categories.  However, using the SAP calculation is a vast improvement on this.  It provides a much more accurate estimate, based on standard occupancy and assuming a reasonable level of insulation, of the heat requirement for the property in question.  The RHI can then be paid at a fixed annual amount, which helps the recipient, as they know in advance what payment they’ll receive.

This approach also helps ensure that the funds are fairly distributed, on the basis of what the property needs, not what the occupier uses.  Finally, the payment assumes a basic level of energy efficiency (loft insulation at 150 mm and cavity filled walls, if cavities are present) so at least for cavity wall properties there is no incentive to leave the property un-insulated in order to burn more fuel and receive a higher payment.

The supported heating technologies (believed to include biomass, anaerobic digestion, biomethane, heat pumps and deep geothermal) are particularly appropriate to rural properties.  As a result, rural communities should gain particular benefit from the RHI.  There are around 2 million homes with no connection to mains gas, and the fuel options open to such homes are generally more expensive than gas, leading to a high prevalence of fuel poverty in rural areas.

Unfortunately, there is a slight mismatch here.  The same rural properties that will benefit from the RHI don’t generally have cavity walls.  For them, the calculation of the heat requirement will be undertaken assuming loft insulation is present, but the solid walls will stay as they are (which will almost always mean uninsulated).  This will mean that such properties will gain a higher level of RHI support than a similar property with a cavity wall. 

Is this an unfair subsidy, or a fair reflection of the extra costs of living in the countryside?  I’m sure there could be arguments on both sides: some see rural dwellers as struggling country-folk deserving subsidy, and others see them as 4-wheel driving fuel-wasters who have chosen to live in the countryside and therefore brought it all on themselves.  You can choose your own viewpoint on this!

In all, the RHI represents a big step forward for the renewable heat industry, and possibly there will also be benefits for DEAs.  Of course, we don’t yet know how the client (the householder) will obtain their SAP/RdSAP assessment to provide the RHI calculation.  I’m hoping that the proposals that are expected this week will provide the answer to this one.

This is a guest blog written by Linn Rafferty, a freelance consultant, writer and DEA, accredited with the NHER scheme.  She writes regularly on issues relating to energy efficiency and renewables and provides consultancy, especially in relation to training needs.  Follow her on Twitter @linniR or at http://jtecservices.co.uk/default.aspx

The views expressed in this blog article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of National Energy Services.  When submitting a comment, please be aware of the guidelines provided in our website terms and conditions.


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