Ground Source Heat Pump Association

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GSHPs on brink of New Dawn?

by Jake Salisbury

There is, at last, growing enthusiasm across the drilling sector and GSHP industry because Commercial RHI tariffs are set to double. This anticipated rise of the tariffs will undoubtedly support an increased demand for Ground Source heating and cooling technology.

For the last few years, uncertainties surrounding the financial support available for renewable technologies have had huge negative impact on the industry – contrary to the intentions of DECC and all parties in parliament.

The GSHPA, on behalf of its members and the UK industry, has been working closely with the DECC RHI Team, helping them to recognise the urgent need for an increase in the tariff rates available for this technology in comparison the rates that have been available for FITS and other forms of Renewable Heat.

Industry welcomed DECC's announcement on 21 January 2013, that a thorough review of the RHI Commercial tariffs for GSHPs (currently just 4.7p/kWh for installations under 100kW; and only 3.4p/kWh for larger installations) will be implemented over the coming weeks.

Minister for Energy & Climate Change, Greg Barker, announced that once this review is complete, all RHI applications will be eligible for the increased rates from the 21 January 2013. This statement was encouraging, but businessmen take 20 year decisions on facts rather than aspirations. Decisions to invest in Ground Source Heating and Cooling systems are currently gathering dust in pending trays. This is a great shame for a technology that offers the lowest cost, space heating & cooling solution in the market – if well designed and properly installed and commissioned.

The RHI, the first scheme of its type in the world, was conceived to offer financial support to the market for on-site renewable heat generation across the UK, but the tariffs offered were 40% of the then retail price of electricity. For the Feed in Tariffs, launched 20 months earlier, some of the rates were initially over 400% of the then retail price of electricity.

Growing apace

The GSHP industry had been experiencing growth towards the end of the last decade and had been encouraged by the talk of the introduction of RHI from as early as 2007. This anticipation encouraged new entrants to the market – many of whom have sufferred as Government policies diverted interest in renewable energy away from ground source energy.

During these quiet times for the industry, the GSHPA has worked closely with DECC, Ofgem, MCS and others to document the Standards up to which installers must operate. Customers need assurance that installers have the competance to achieve high quality design, installation and commissioning.

Borehole Standards

Back when industry appeared to be advancing and with knowledge of the Commercial/Industrial RHI due to be coming online within the next couple of years and expectation that, due to limited land availability, a large number of systems would require vertical boreholes – the GSHPA decided that the Vertical Borehole Standard should be the first in the series.

Within the Association, one of the sub-committees is the Training & Standards Sub-Committee, which includes some of the only IGSHPA qualified designers in the UK; the expertise was certainly present.

Key elements of the Vertical Borehole Standard are relevant to the drilling sector and cover the general requirements that will result in a high quality system. Relevant points include:

Since completion and publication in Autumn 2011, alongside the Environment Agency's Good Practice Guide for Ground Source Heating & Cooling systems, the VBS has been available to download from the GSHPA website.

The Standard has been cross referenced by the Environment Agency and also features in the Microgeneration Certification Scheme Installation Standard: MCS 3005.

At the time of publication, the industry lull continues. Though demand was present for the technology, this was relatively low, though awareness of this new industry standard was out there, its use was relatively low. The Association continued, however, to take positive steps and to continue with the on-going development of the necessary standards to support the industry. The domestic Renewable Heat Incentive had been expected to launch in 2009, then 2010 and with unknown delays lying ahead for this equally critical area of growth of the UK renewable heating industry, the decision was made to focus on the Thermal Pile Standard.

In a similar style to the VBS, the Thermal Pile Standard (TPS) was written with the intention of supporting this field of geothermal installations – on a larger, commercial and industrial scale. Both the Vertical Borehole Standard and the Thermal Pile Standard include particular relevance to the drilling requirements for geothermal systems and should be of use in supporting this area which will soon to be returning to growth. Each of the Standards are available to download from the GSHPA website for reference and use with installations / drilling contracts.

Return to full strength

It is well known across industry that due to the lack of on-going financial support to encourage the uptake of this technology and the drilling aspect of that, which makes up a considerable percentage, that until clarity is offered – the industry will stagnate. With over 110 companies registered through the British Drilling Association (BDA), at least 18 within the Federation of Piling Specialists and a number from each of these bodies being members of the GSHPA, there is certainly the workforce out there to carry the initial increased demand for the GSHP installations.

With the appropriate training and competency growth, the number of drilling businesses able to support the growth of the sector should increase accordingly.

Since DECC's announcement in January confirming an imminent increase in the GSHP RHI tariff rates, there has been renewed vigour in the industry. Though we are confident that there will be growth, the first signs of which we expect to be displayed during the next few months of 2013. As the GSHPA – we make a call to all drilling businesses to get in touch and find out how best you can play a part in helping to meet this demand.

The target is there – 30 million heat pumps by 2050, with 10 million GSHPs.

The future is down there – the future is ground source heating and cooling.


This article first appeared in Geodrilling International on 6 March 2013.

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