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It's time for MIS 3005 training to get into gear

The heat pump installer standard - MIS 3005 - came into effect in March. However, many contractors are still struggling with its requirements, says Chris Davis
Significant changes to the MCS heat pump installer standard - MIS 3005 - came into effect in March this year, affecting the design of all new heat pump systems. The changes are intended to ensure consistently high performance for heat pump installations by introducing more prescriptive design standards for MCS compliant systems. But, despite the best of intentions, installers are still struggling with the requirements of the new standard.

The updated MIS 3005 has been developed to tackle some of the performance-affecting issues raised in the Energy Saving Trust's (EST) field trial of heat pumps, including system undersizing, over-reliance on electric back up heating and incorrect ground loop sizing, and is intended to help installers develop efficient, high performance systems.

Training for installers on the requirements of the new installer standard was slow to be rolled out last autumn. As the planned original launch date of December 2011 loomed, only a small minority of installers had received training on MIS 3005, and it took independent action from a number of heat pump manufacturers to roll out a series of installer training courses in January 2012 to raise awareness of the changes with MCS installers.

Six months on, and although installer training on MIS 3005 continues to be offered through manufacturers, there remains a disconnect between the requirements of MCS and the wider heat pump training being delivered out there in the market, as generic training courses have been slow to adapt their training around the new MIS 3005 standard and ensure that the relevant elements of this are clearly explained to installers.

This is predominantly because all such training courses are now aligned with the new Qualification Certification Framework and are mapped to the requirements of the relevant National Occupational Standard. However, despite industry having invested 12 months reviewing the issues highlighted by the EST heat pump field trial, working together to develop the new standard and co-ordinate with the MCS process to get the new standard introduced, this has still not been written into the National Occupational Standard to which the training courses are mapped.

In a nutshell, current certified training does not adequately cover the requirements of MCS, leaving new entrants entirely unprepared and potentially unable to gain MCS accreditation.

Extremely worrying gap
This disparity between market requirements and training delivery infrastructure is an extremely worrying gap in the industry's training provision, bringing the very real danger of an increasing skills gap at installer and designer level. The Government has set lofty targets and expectation for the growth of the heat pump sector, yet this must be underpinned by robust installer capacity development and training.

In the absence of any progress in training provision, manufacturers are taking the lead in providing installer training on the new requirements, and in offering ongoing support. Dimplex, for example, has expanded its heat pump design service to include all the calculations required by the new standard.

But it shouldn't be solely up to manufacturers to provide supplementary training on what is in reality a new industry standard. Training bodies need to be ready with appropriate education programmes and qualifications. The MCS Certification bodies also have to be up to speed so that installers who have taken the time, trouble and effort to adopt the new standard are properly supported, not penalised. And, finally, the scheme needs to be properly policed.

The industry stands at a critical point. Funding under phase 1 (non-domestic) of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is already dependent on MCS accreditation, of which MIS 3005 compliance is now a requirement. Crucially, the domestic phase of the RHI is still in development, and financial support is very likely to be linked to a guarantee of system performance.

In short, the responsibility is ours to ensure high performance heat pump installations every time and we need to get to grips with the requirements of MIS 3005. This isn't going to be easy, given that the infrastructure for helping installers to upskill is not yet in place in any cohesive way. But, if we want RHI support to go ahead, the industry really needs to overhaul its training practices now - before we miss out on this opportunity to ensure a robust future for all of us.

// The author is business development director at Dimplex Renewables //
16 July 2012

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