Change is coming in the heating sector
With the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions increasingly taking centre stage, the new decade is likely to bring changes to many aspects of our daily life. But what will it mean for the heating industry? Ahead of Future Build event, where MCS will be working with key partners to create the Future Installer Zone, we put some experts on the spot and asked them the questions that all heating technicians will need answered.
- Graham lock - Founder Low Carbon Homes
- Ian Rippin - CEO, MCS Certified
- Phil Mason - Head of Compliance at TrustMark
- Nathan Van Gambling - Founder, Betateach and Betatalk podcast
- Stewart Clements - Director, HHIC
- Paul Rose - CEO, OFTEC
- Phil Hurley - Managing Director, NIBE Energy Systems Ltd and Vice Chair of the Heat Pump Association
- Guy Crabb - Technician Representative, OFTEC Scheme Committee and Heating Business Owner
- Martyn Bridges - Director of Technical Communication and Product Management, Worcester Bosch
What is the best way for installers to future proof their careers?
Nathan Van Gambling
Build loyal customer bases
I think installers, at the very least, need to familiarise themselves with all new technologies and their suitability for different applications, with consideration given to training courses for technologies that would most suit their skills.
We cannot stand still when it comes to training. Technologies such as heat pumps and hybrid systems will become more and more important as the government looks to cut carbon emissions. Heating engineers should proactively begin to include these technologies in their portfolio and review the training offerings available from manufacturers to ready them for the coming consumer demand in these products.
What is the best way for the future installer to support the decarbonisation of heating emissions?
"Frontline workers" in other professions are trained to identify and guide vulnerable households when they visit customers at home. There is a huge opportunity for suitably trained heating engineers to look beyond the appliance and to consider a whole-house and household approach to heating - to help reduce energy demand, and provide low carbon alternatives to intensive fossil fuel use. Decarbonisation of heat can only take place on a house by house basis, as the topic is complex, and solutions rarely standardised. The 21st century heating engineer could therefore become the conduit to a raft of measures to not only reduce the carbon impact of homes, but also to support the vulnerable and alleviate fuel poverty.
Nathan Van Gambling
Learn as much as possible about solar thermal and how it can be combined with other heat sources such as heat pumps.
In the longer term as we prepare for green gas, the industry will need to design and develop training requirements for commissioning hydrogen-ready appliances. These appliances will require new legislation, standards and a new set of commissioning requirements - all of which heating operatives will need to learn. Training is no longer a 'nice to do' it really has never been more of a 'must-have'.
Technicians need to forget what they think they know about a home - they will need to carefully assess the current energy requirements of each and every home and provide a range of recommendations to the homeowner including energy efficiency improvements as well as the heating system most appropriate for their home. This will require a different mindset - gone are the days of the like for like boiler replacement.
What will the consumer expect from future installers?
Unless the proposition of the engineer changes, I suspect consumers will expect nothing more than they already get. The heating industry has a vital role in raising expectations of consumers, so that engineers can upskill to meet that demand, resulting in much more rewarding work which, in turn, attracts young entrants seeking a highly valued, worthwhile and well-compensated career.
The consumers ever increasing expectations will require installers to specify low carbon heating and hot water solutions coupled with flexible and internet connected control systems. Devices that allow the end user to make use of the cheapest fuel tariffs, allow remote operation and supervision of their heating systems and also let them know when a fault has occurred or their system needs servicing.
Guidance on the range of heating solutions available to them, including being an advocate for renewable energy technologies, that in turn can reduce a consumer's dependence on traditional fossil fuels, lowering their energy bills as well as making a real contribution to the fight against climate change.
Nathan Van Gambling
To be up to date with current knowledge and practice
Consumers are waking up to the fact that more needs to be done in all areas of society to reduce our carbon footprint and this will impact on future installers. In many cases the installer will remain the first port of call for the customer when they are considering making their homes more energy efficient. The consumer will expect the installer to be able to operate a wider knowledge of technologies and be able to react to their more varied requirements for quality information, installation and service. Consumers will seek more advice on what is best for their home and what impact changes will have in the future. They may also want information about finance options. All of this information should be at the installer's fingertips to enable them to deliver a positive experience for the consumer.
Engineers are already the first port of call for many homeowners when they are seeking advice on their home heating systems. As we move through the inevitable sea change that large scale decarbonisation will bring it is imperative that engineers are informed and able to offer advice on all technologies and heating solutions. Staying up to date through trade press, email bulletins, training and briefing seminars will enable engineers to continue to deliver a first class, trusted service to UK homeowners.
Consumers will expect that their installer will be able to provide advice across a range of solutions including smart controls and pricing mechanisms to ensure that they are getting the most out of their heating system. With the proliferation of smart thermostats and controls combined with a shift towards electrified heating solutions, it is anticipated that demand for these products will continue to increase. We should not expect consumers to understand or be aware of all the low carbon heating options available to them nor know which ones are most suited to their home and usage patterns, as such installers should provide independent and trustworthy advice to consumers to enable them to make an informed decision about their heating system.
What is the biggest change that future installers can expect to see in the 2020s?
Unquestionably de-carbonisation is the biggest challenge installers and technicians will face in the 2020's. The Net Zero carbon target by 2050 and previous declarations by the Government that high carbon fuels are firmly in their sights and oil and coal head that list is one that will affect all of us in the industry.
Nathan Van Gambling
That wider industry will start to listen to them more
The biggest challenge will be the shifting of mindset from like-for-like replacements to renewable and low carbon solutions and the provision of services to enable the transition. This will be aided by government policy and increased consumer awareness of climate change however, installers will play a significant role in providing information and informing the decisions their clients make as well as installing less polluting heating solutions. They will need to be able to confidently and competently talk to clients about the solutions available in a holistic way and encourage the low carbon transition, this will require retraining and upskilling. The government has an ambition to phase out high carbon fossil fuels in the 2020s and installers are the key contact point meaning that they must be fully aware of the policy landscape and regulatory requirements.
The biggest challenge will be for smaller installers to carry out all the work themselves. There will be a greater need to join forces or collaborate with different trades to provide the a complete solution for the customer.
What can certification bodies such as OFTEC do to support the installers of the future?
I think there's a great deal of work to be done to encourage the development of future heating engineers - I personally try to avoid using the term "installer", as I feel it potentially undermines the skills required to provide the service customers need - a little like the comparison between a fitter and a mechanic or technician in an automotive context. Certification bodies could act as sector advocates, promoting the exciting career prospects of a 21st century heating engineer to those currently in education. A modern engineer should not just be a fitter, but a highly trained expert in creating comfortable, safe and low carbon environments for people to live and work. For those looking for a career to make a difference, the answer is very close to home.
Provide guidance to their members as to the available resources, training and support that can enable an installer's business to deliver renewable heating solutions for their customers, alongside more traditional heating solutions. OFTEC is uniquely placed to do this as it can offer its members a 'one stop shop' with a range certification schemes, covering liquid and solid fuels, as well as renewable energy technologies such as heat pumps, solar thermal and biomass.
Nathan Van Gambling
understand the Betateach system of adult learning and help disseminate that information to training centres and personal
It is in no doubt that the construction industry, including the energy sector, is in a significant period of change. Certification bodies like OFTEC are in a valuable and crucial position to help installers deliver improved energy efficiency whether that's through raising awareness or providing upskilling opportunities. Supporting installers in understanding more about the changing landscape is key to positively delivering the changes the industry needs.
A whole house approach is the most sensible approach to improve energy efficiency and deliver the low carbon objective and there is a lot of work to be done. It's really important that all installers are actively involved; the installer of the future needs to be even more knowledgeable and delivering consistent good quality installations for it to work and certification bodies like OFTEC are integral to the success of this.
Certification bodies are going to play a vital role in the transition to a low carbon future. They are a key source of information for installers and ensure that professional and technical standards are met. The move to lower carbon heating solutions such as heat pumps will require the upskilling of installers and is likely to see new business models and smarter heating systems being installed. Certification bodies will need to adapt to these changes and ensure that their members are able to respond to changing market conditions and consumer preferences. Certification bodies will need to work closely with heating manufacturers to ensure that the members understand the range of solutions available and are thus able to advise their clients on the most appropriate option for their circumstances.
What will future installers expect from equipment manufacturers?
Appliance manufacturers are pretty adept at trying to make the installers life as easy as possible so I think you will see an increasing amount of options enter the market to answer the challenge of lowering the carbon output of heating and hot water generation. We will start to see oil-fired boilers being produced ready to burn lower carbon oils such as Bio-Kerosene as well as packages of appliances where the oil consumption is reduced and the heating and hot water generated from electric Heatpumps with oil being needed for perhaps 30% of the time when its exceptionally cold.
Nathan Van Gambling
For their training to consider and support the individual learning needs of installers
The whole house approach will lead to manufacturers launching new products which is likely to include an extension in technologies. This is essential to help meet the low carbon objective. Installers will and should expect a broader range of equipment available to achieve this and the product training and technical support to ensure they can be installed safely and effectively. Multi-measure installation packages are will become the norm and manufacturers solutions to deliver these are paramount to support the installer.
I would like manufacturers to concentrate on making products more user friendly. Many technologies to date have proved to be very complicated for both the installer to set-up/commission and for the homeowners to control.
What new skills will installers need in the future?
The ability to offer customers the renewable energy solution alternative to fossil fuels, that can meet their heating needs. The installer of the future will be need to understand the requirements of the relevant regulations and standards that relate to the practical installation, testing and commissioning activities associated with the installation of renewable energy technologies.
Nathan Van Gambling
The 4 "C" skills remain as fundamental as ever: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking and Creativity. Collaboration will take the form of peer learning and working closer with manufacturers. Regarding Communication, engineers and installers will have to consider how to convey information to a diverse customer base.
Technicians should assume that their customers don't know which heating systems or retrofit measures will be most suitable for their homes. They will no longer just be heating experts; they will need to understand the whole building and be able to identify the most appropriate low carbon solutions. For some homes this will be a heat pump and for others a low carbon liquid fuel boiler.
What will the future installer expect from their training centre?
Nathan Van Gambling
To have it independently rated (by my company) to ensure training managers and trainers understand current theoretical practices around adult learning.
Training centres need to design courses that effectively teach new technology installations whilst identifying the skills already possessed by engineers.
You could argue whether or not it is reassuring that many of the quotes from all our contributors echo many of our own viewpoints albeit with a slightly different focus. It certainly is helpful, when lobbying parliament, that industry speaks as one in terms of a need for specialist training and organisations to independently verify the competence of installers. Afterall, government is far more likely to take on board the messages of the many rather than the few.
One thing that we've taken on board in compiling this article is the view that rather than change being a negative thing, actually the transition to low carbon heat offers fantastic opportunities for those installers who are willing and able to embrace new technologies and provide expert advice to homeowners on the range of options open to them. So perhaps our final question should be: Are you ready to take advantage of those opportunities?