Consumer confidence is key to growth

David Cowburn, Chief Operating Officer at NAPIT, considers the impact of consumer confidence on growth in the energy efficiency and low carbon heating sectors and outlines what is needed to strengthen confidence in this sector to enable the retrofitting of around 26 million homes by 2050, needed to meet the government net zero targets.

“It’s been a week for focussing on consumer protection, holding useful conversations with colleagues from the Competition and Markets Authority as they continue to look at consumer protection in the UK green heating and insulation sector. I met with Ian Rippin, CEO of MCS Certified to understand his ambition to enhance consumer protection and consumer confidence in low carbon technologies. Working with TrustMark and other certification bodies, we launched the Retrofit Installers Working Group with a significant focus of the group being on quality assurance checks and the mechanisms in place to protect consumers from noncompliant work. Finally, I had a productive conversation with the National Consumers Federation about their upcoming net zero position paper and 2023 congress focus in this area. With the week culminating in the publication of Mission Zero, the result of Chris Skidmore MP’s Independent Review of Net Zero, it is great to see so much positive activity in this space.

“Within these various meetings, I took the opportunity to reiterate the importance of strong sector standards, the benefits of undertaking and further enhancing on-site technical assessments of installer competence, the necessity of product certification to protect consumers from under-performing or poor-quality products and the importance of certification bodies working together to protect against rogue installers jumping ship to evade enforcement action.

“Undertaking appropriate enforcement action is key to enhancing consumer confidence. A recent example of collaborative scheme action resulted in one unscrupulous contractor receiving a 30-month custodial sentence following an investigation by Trading Standards into repeated attempts to unlawfully gain certification, and incorrectly advertising certification status. I was proud to personally support this case by giving evidence in court twice, demonstrating the industry’s commitment to maintaining high standards and holding contractors to account.

“Consumer protection is such an important issue and is currently under scrutiny in the green heating and insulation sectors due to an increase in reported bad practice, in part because of recent growth and the relative immaturity of the supply chain. As a direct result of the rising cost of energy, consumers are actively and enthusiastically considering home improvements to reduce their energy demand. At NAPIT, we have seen a significant increase in installers wishing to train and become MCS Certified to install solar PV panels, electrical energy storage systems, electrical vehicle charge points and heat pumps. We have seen certified solar PV installer numbers and notifications grow at a rate we haven’t seen since the height of the Feed-in Tariff. This is of course great news, as certification and training are vital to enhancing consumer protection and confidence.

“It is crucial that consumers have confidence in low carbon technologies to support sustained growth in this sector, which in turn will help the government meet its net zero targets. Consumer confidence is intrinsically linked to installation practices, and we need to support installers on their journey to train, re-skill and embrace the net zero revolution. These are sentiments which have been strongly echoed in the ‘Mission Zero’ report, where recommendations have been made to government to accelerate the development of training and installation standards, set a policy framework and supportive investment environment to encourage reskilling and greater training opportunities in the heat pump sector and work with local authorities, industry and certification bodies to explore how listings of certified installers could be made publicly available.

“We are already on the journey to net zero, which will no doubt take time, and will be driven by consumer demand to some extent, but providing clear training pathways, funding to reduce the upfront cost of training and certification, and confidence that this is a long-term stable market are just some ways the government, and industry, can support this transition.

“In the meantime, we will continue to work collaboratively with scheme owners, government departments and certification bodies to further enhance the provision of consumer protection and continue to promote the benefits of using registered, qualified and competent installers to install energy efficiency measures and low carbon technologies in a bid to enhance and maintain confidence.

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