SELECT warns that skills shortages could create challenges for green heating plans

Heat pump and Bob Cairney (inset)

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SCOTLAND’S largest construction trade body, SELECT, has warned that “significant investment” is needed to ensure there is a sufficiently skilled workforce to install new domestic heating technology and meet net zero targets safely. 

The campaigning electrical association says investment in “proper” apprenticeships and upskilling the existing workforce is essential – and it’s also vital to upgrade the nation’s electrical supply to accommodate green domestic technology.

SELECT’s warnings came after it responded to a recent Scottish Government consultation into the New Build Heat Standard, which is due for launch in April 2024 to reduce carbon emissions from the Scottish building stock.

The body said that while it agrees with the standard’s aim of regulating direct emissions heating (DEH) in new buildings, rolling out greener options could bring unintended consequences.

In its response, SELECT said: “Zero direct emissions heating (ZDEH) installations may impact on the consumer’s electrical installation and require the upgrading of some aspects of the consumer’s distribution equipment. Has the availability of sufficient skilled and competent installers been considered?

“It may also become an issue where government targets for conversions and retrofit are to be achieved. Has the industry sufficient capacity to undertake the levels of expected ZDEH installations?”

The association added: “Additional electrical supply capacity for ZDEH systems may be necessary in certain geographical areas of the country, especially where large numbers of conversions are planned.

“Significant investment in the existing national cabling infrastructure is therefore required. Alternatively, such problems may preclude the upgrading to provide a ZDEH system.”

SELECT also warned that poorer households could be less likely to install new low-carbon heating technology, leaving them with outdated, expensive and unsafe systems.

Its response noted: “The capital and operating costs of zero direct emissions heating (ZDEH) systems are more costly than most traditional sources. 

“It is likely that lower income households will not have sufficient resources to enable them to upgrade their existing DEH systems easily and householders may be content to continue to use the older, and possibly redundant, systems well beyond their intended lifespans.

“This has the potential of increasing the number of safety incidents if systems are operated without adequate maintenance to ensure their safe and efficient operation and much higher running costs, as older products will be much less energy efficient.”

SELECT is now recommending a phased introduction of ZDEH systems based on property size, with the  tariff structures for electricity be reviewed to provide a wider range of choice for users to make the transition more appealing.

Its response added: “In speaking to colleagues across Europe, all northern countries are proposing to introduce similar plans but over a longer period. 

“For example, Denmark, who are much more advanced in installations of solar, heat pumps and insulations than Scotland, are not going to make a change until 2028.”

Bob Cairney, Director of Technical Services at SELECT, said: “We all understand the importance of making the move to a net zero society and reducing our carbon footprint, but at the same time it is important to be realistic and recognise the impact on all householders.

“In this consultation, we are suggesting that all plans are looked at and revised properly and the practical timescales and costings are taken into account when developing targets to ensure Scotland is ready for the technology of tomorrow.”

The Scottish Government opened the New Build Heat Standard Consultation in anticipation of the Standard’s launch in April 2024.

It aims to remove DEH systems from new buildings and conversions to reduce carbon emissions –  which currently create 20% of Scottish emissions – and move completely to ZDEH systems. 

In 2020, it was determined through EPC certificates that 80% of new buildings were heated using gas, 3% being oil or LPG and 10% being ZDEH.

The pathway to 2024 will be paved through the use of the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004 with the new build heating standards being implemented through the building standards.

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