Social housing landlords across the country are to receive £4m of support in the start of a trial that will help prepare for next year's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
The exercise involves installing sustainable heating systems such as biomass boilers, solar water heating panels, heat pumps (ground source, air-to-water and water-to-water), in solid walled properties managed by 24 social housing providers across Britain.
These types of properties are harder to heat and insulate than more modern, cavity-walled dwellings and are typically inhabited by those classified as living in fuel poverty.
The social landlords comprise the first winners to be announced under the £15m Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP) scheme competition, which was launched in August.
Participants will each receive up to £175,000 in the form of the following support for each technology:
Solar thermal hot water: £300
Air source heat pump: £850
Ground source or water source heat pump: £1,250
Biomass boiler: £950.
Most of the winners are in the south west; a total of 558. Scotland, which is of course a much colder part of the UK, gets just over 400 schemes, the south east about 370, the east of England 310, Wales 290, with London getting the lowest number, because it has proportionately fewer solid walled properties: 32.
Air source heat pumps will receive the most support; they are very easy to install. Solar thermal comes close second, followed by ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers, which are the heating source of choice north of the border.
Air source heat pumps are controversial since some experience has shown that poor installation and management can lead to minuscule or dubious fuel or carbon savings.
One householder has complained to BRE that his MCS-approved air source heat pump achieved savings of only 200 watts over a 24-hour period, because of the number of motors it uses.
The results of the monitoring are expected to clarify this, together with the cost-effectiveness of ground source heat pumps, which is reduced if a trench has to be specially dug for the installation.
They are more cost- and carbon-effective if a hole in the ground is already available due to other construction activity.
One of the conditions for taking part in the scheme is that, once installed, participants permit the measures to be monitored to gauge their effectiveness, to better design the full roll-out of the domestic RHI that is expected next autumn.
Currently half of the UK’s carbon emissions come from the energy used to generate heating in buildings.
The government estimates that the total of the measures under the RHPP and the RHI (domestic and non-domestic) are going to save the equivalent of the power supplied and carbon emitted by two new gas power stations up to 2020; that is, an average of 4.4 million tonnes of carbon per year.
Energy and climate change minister Greg Barker commented that the scheme "directly targets many of the people who could struggle to pay their heating bills in the winter. It will encourage an increase in the number of new heating technologies in social housing and help people deal with expensive fuel costs".
Karen Lawrence, director of delivery for the Energy Saving Trust, said she was well aware of a great appetite for green technologies among social landlords, to "help tenants heat their homes more cheaply and efficiently".
"We also know councils and housing associations have become increasingly proactive and knowledgeable in the field of sustainability – and this was reflected in the standard of the bids for funding that were received," she added.
“Both this and the householder strand of the RHPP will also be great learning opportunities," she said. "Real data on performance in people’s homes is absolutely key in successfully boosting the market for renewable heat technologies.”
No doubt the government also hopes it will help them avoid the costly and damaging mistakes associated with the mis-setting of the feed-in tariff levels for PV.
The vouchers are being issued on a first come, first served basis. The scheme is still open to applicants, who can apply here or by phoning Energy Saving Trust on 0800 512 012.
Meanwhile, the non-domestic RHI will start at the end of this month.
It was originally scheduled to commence at the end of September, but required state aid approval. This has now been granted, subject to a small change in one tariff.
Businesses and organisations will be able to install sustainable heating systems and receive a favourable tariff for each unit of heating produced, over 20 years, in the same way that the feed-in tariff works for electricity.
This is expected to provide a huge boost to the heating industry.
The new rates are as follows:
Small biomass <200 kW: 7.6p/kWh (Tier 1) or 1.9p/kWh (Tier 2)
Medium biomass <1,000 kW: 4.7p/kWh (Tier 1) or 1.9p/kWh (Tier 2)
Large biomass >1,000 kW: 1p/kWh
Small ground-source heat pumps <100 kW: 4.3p/kWh
Large ground-source heat pumps >100 kW: 3p/kWh
Solar thermal <200 kW: 8.5p/kWh
Biomethane and biogas <200 kW: 6.5p/kWh.