Opinion Piece by Ian Rippin, CEO, Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS)

04 June 2021

In our recent landmark report – Renewing Britain – MCS provided a comprehensive analysis of the changing landscape of small-scale renewable energy since 2008. What we found is that the landscape for small-scale renewables has changed dramatically over the past 14 years, creating forests (areas where small-scale renewables are particularly prevalent) and deserts (areas where small-scale renewables are scarce) of installations.

Our data reveals that there are small-scale renewables across Great Britain in varying degrees, with Solar PV in particular in every corner of the land. The path by which we arrived at this picture has not been a slow and steady one, nor has it resulted in an even spread of installations.

National government policies are obviously important but pivotal strategies are also being developed by the devolved administrations and other tiers of government and it is important to champion local successes.

The success of renewables in rural areas (particularly the Scottish Islands and Cornwall) demonstrates the importance of a raft of combined initiatives under a unified strategy, as in for example, Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Plan. Scotland’s “whole-system” approach is planned and deployed on an area-by-area basis, with Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies, small-scale renewables supported through subsidy, grants and loans and, very importantly, independent advice.

Cornwall’s “whole-house” approach to retrofit takes a fabric-first focus to ensuring the most appropriate materials and insulation are in place before energy needs are addressed through small-scale renewables.

With 20 per cent of homes having an MCS certified installation, Orkney is the superstar local authority in so far as small-scale renewables are concerned. It has the highest number of Ground / Water Source Heat Pumps and Solar Thermal installations as a percentage of homes and ranks second for Air Source Heat Pumps. Orkney’s success has come from deploying a raft of integrated measures including impartial advice, a Carbon Management strategy, a Fuel Poverty Strategy and a Skills Strategy, that taken together provide the ideal environment for a small-scale renewables ‘forest’.

The need to set clear, ambitious, evidence-driven targets is clear if we are to tackle the deployment gaps and drive an increase in installations. Short term subsidies, changes to tariffs and frequently changing new schemes, challenge consumer understanding and engagement, as well as presenting cliff edges for the sector when schemes come to an end.

Ambitious targets delivered through long-term incentives are vital to secure the contribution small-scale renewables can make towards Net Zero carbon emissions. The Future Homes Standard should assure an end to fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses to limit the scale of the challenge. A far greater impact and challenge will be switching the 27 million existing UK homes to low carbon heat.

Heat Pump technologies are proven, reliable and extremely efficient: thermal output from heat pumps is several times the electricity input, as long as they are installed correctly. However, the up-front costs are a barrier to upgrading heating systems and improving efficiency. As a result, ambitious retrofit targets need to be matched by appropriately funded incentive schemes.

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