There’s never been a better time to go green. Switching to an electric car, adding solar panels to your roof, or plumbing in a heat pump is not just a way to shake off the carbon guilt of modern life. As energy bills rocket, these technologies can also shave hundreds of pounds off annual fuel and energy bills.
But if you have been struggling to put your green ambitions into action, rest assured you are not alone. Across the country households are being thwarted in their efforts to cut their carbon footprint by unreliable supply chains, long delays, Brexit bureaucracy, and high prices, i has found.
Matthew Goldberg, energy manager at National Grid, has been trying for weeks to get a quote for a rooftop solar installation on his house in Berkshire, but says he is being “ghosted” by overrun companies. On the same subject : Power plays – Virginia Business. “I can’t get anyone to call me back or provide a quote”, he told i. “Even the adverts on Facebook have been removed or the prices have suddenly gone up sharply.”
Mr Goldberg is far from alone. The sharp spike in electricity prices has sparked a rush of enquiries for rooftop solar installations across the country as people look to cut their reliance on grid power.
A typical household with solar installed can now save up to £440 a year on energy bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust, by using home-grown electricity rather than grid power – more if the solar array is twinned with a battery to store power for use after dark.
Demand for solar has been further fuelled by the Chancellor’s announcement in the Spring Statement that VAT on energy efficiency products, such as rooftop solar and batteries, will fall from 20 per cent to five per cent, effective this month.
The surging demand has left firms – many of which scaled back their operations after subsidies were cut in 2019 – struggling to keep up.
Naked Solar, a rooftop solar installer based in Cornwall, has been inundated with enquiries since news of the rising energy price cap broke in early February. The firm has 400 outstanding enquiries still pending that staff simply haven’t had time to wade through, a spokesperson told i. Even once enquiries are picked up, it could be eight months before customers see their solar arrays installed.
Installers across the country are facing similar challenges. Danny Edward, who runs Save Heat Energy, a solar installer in County Durham, said he had gone from receiving one enquiry a month to two or three enquiries a day. Customers are having to wait twice as long as usual for systems to be installed, he said, despite his teaming having doubled their installation rate.
Although the supply of solar panels is coming through, companies such as Mr Edward’s are also battling shortages of batteries and electrical components needed to rig up solar storage systems. To see also : A cut-and-paste attack on electric vehicle batteries and renewables is spanning the globe. But is it right? | Graham Readfearn.
Over the last two years, Covid-19 outbreaks have strangled production of vital computer chips used in everything from game consoles to battery storage units, sparking a global shortage exacerbated by surging demand and shortages of raw materials.
Only this week an install of solar-plus-storage had to be postponed at the last minute, because the promised battery had not arrived in the country, Mr Edward said. “The stock issues have been a big thing, and that’s been the batteries,” he said. “A lot of the main functioning parts of the kit, they are in short supply.”
More on Heat Pumps
Supply chain issues are also affecting the heat pump market, just as demand is expected to ramp up with the launch of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which from this month will offer homeowners £5,000 towards the cost of an air source heat pump.
Industry insiders blame the chip shortage, chaos in the global shipping industry, and Brexit-related delays for the disruption. On top of that, generous subsidies for heat pumps in Europe have pulled supply to the continent, they say.
That is impacting installers’ ability to roll out clean heating systems. Paul Leedham is managing director of Matrix Energy Systems, a solar and heat pump installer in Nottinghamshire. He said he was struggling to get hold of some brands of heat pumps. “Some of the bigger ones [brands] have got a 15-week lead time,” he told i. “It’s over three months. That’s ridiculous.”
“Lead times for everything at the moment are longer,” agreed Jonathan Hawes from SGS Energy, a solar and heat pump installer in Kent. “Pre-Covid I could place an order, and I could tell my customers with a 100 per cent guarantee that it will be there in 24-48 hours,” he said. “Now that attitude is, ‘You pay your money, you take your chances, and when it gets here we will come and fit it.”
Wholesalers say they are working flat out to increase supply to the market. Jeremy Climas is head of renewable heat at Midsummer, a Cambridge-based wholesaler of renewable energy products including solar PV and heat pumps. “In the past year we’ve had to nearly triple in size to meet demand and are still recruiting for nearly all roles,” he told i.
But those delays will be particularly worrying for homes looking to claim grants under the new Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which only gives homeowners three months to complete the work once the voucher has been issued.
That time pressure might force homeowners to choose alternative heat pump models that are not right for their property, simply on the basis of availability, some engineers warn.
Some brands of air source heat pumps are in short supply – but a good installer should be able to work around any supply problems (Photo: Getty Images)
A shortage of trained staff is also a major factor behind installation delays. Octopus Energy may be training hundreds of new heat pump engineers for its rollout, but across the rest of the sector skilled labour is still in short supply.
In the UK there are just 1,200 heat pump installers, compared to 96,000 gas engineers, according to the Independent Networks Association. Around 10 times that will be needed by the middle of the decade to meet the Government’s clean heat targets.
But convincing existing heating engineers to retrain is an uphill battle, said SGS Energy’s Mr Hawes.
“We are looking for heating engineers with experience,” he said. “Most of the heating engineers we want, with the experience, are in their forties or fifties [and] not looking to come out of doing gas [work]. It’s what they know and it’s easy.”
Ken Bone, technical engineer at Surrey-based renewables firm Your Energy Your Way, said there was little financial incentive for gas engineers to retrain. “If a combi boiler guy can do three boilers a week at two grand a piece, he’s earning far more money than I am,” he said.
A new low-carbon heating apprenticeship will launch later this year that will boost the number of new recruits entering the heat pump industry next year. But in the meantime a sector short of equipment and skilled labour means customers are struggling to find available installers. Some installers are now booked up until the end of June for Boiler Upgrade Scheme installs.
It’s not just expensive green equipment like heat pumps and batteries that is proving difficult to come by. Paul Hughes, 32, owns a two-bedroom end-of-terrace house in Bristol. He has been trying since October 2021 to replace five single glazed windows in his house with double glazed uPVC but is struggling to find a supplier with spare time to quote for the job.
“That’s been a real struggle because the suppliers are all so busy,” he told i. “Even if you can get through to them the lead times are increasing all the time.”
Across the country lead times for double-glazed windows and doors have shot up from four weeks to up to 20 weeks in the last year, while prices have increased by at least 20 per cent, according to Lee Galley, assessment manager at Risa, which inspects newly installed windows and doors to ensure they meet regulations.
“We’ve had increased demand and reduced supply, and that’s a bad combination,” he said, blaming post-Brexit paperwork and a shortage of materials for restrictions on supply. These problems are here to stay, he predicted: “The scarcity economy is the new normal. I can’t see it getting any better.”
Double glazing is a double win – making a house warmer and more efficient and boosting its value. And once an installer is found, it is also usually a relatively simple switch.
But for homeowners who need more costly, cumbersome energy efficiency measures, like wall or floor insulation, confusion reigns. There is little clear information on where homeowners should go to find out if their property would benefit more from cavity wall insulation or new windows, external cladding or internal insulation.
Every home is different and making the wrong choice can have catastrophic consequences.
“Getting the right information about what is best for their properties is critical,” stressed Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders. “[But] at the moment, the homeowner is struggling to find that information.
“Then, if you find the right information, can you find the right people to do the work? There’s a shortage of builders, there’s still a need for more builders to understand about the energy performance of buildings, and there’s a market for cowboy builders to come into, at a time when there’s been huge demand.”
That is before the question of cost is even raised. Since the Green Homes Grant was scrapped after just six months in operation, the UK has had no general subsidy scheme for energy efficiency improvements, despite studies suggesting more than 19 million homes across the UK need work to make them suitable for a heat pump.
Aside from the fuel-poor or those in social housing, households are expected to foot the bill for the total cost of installing energy efficiency upgrades – work that can easily run into the tens of thousands of pounds. More help is needed, perhaps in the form of interest-free loans, to help households invest for a net-zero home, industry experts say.
Order a Tesla Model X or S today and delivery will not be until late 2023 (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty)
Outside the home, the challenges continue. Electric car sales are surging, but those who put their name down for zero-emission wheels face a long wait.
Drivers wanting to make the switch to an electric car may have to wait more than a year until their vehicle arrives, according to data shared exclusively with i by Electrifying.com, an online consumer guide for EVs.
The long lead times have been caused by a worldwide surge in demand for electric vehicles, coupled with the global shortage of microchips. The most popular car brands are the worst affected, with UK buyers expected to wait until late 2023 to take delivery of Tesla Model X and Model S, and at least a year for a Volkswagen ID.3.
“Cars like the VW ID.3 which were freely available 12 months ago now have waiting times of more than a year,” said Electrifying.com founder Ginny Buckley. “This is down to a perfect storm of increased demand, coupled with a shortage of vital components caused by global events.”
Keep your green dreams alive
The current energy crisis has the potential to spark a step change in the UK’s transition to net zero, pushing previously reluctant households to embrace greener technologies like EVs and solar panels.
But in today’s turbulent market, households need to plan ahead and be prepared to compromise. For those looking to install rooftop solar, be patient. As the days grow longer installers can speed up their rollout rate so the backlog of work should ease over the summer.
For heat pump customers, find an installer you trust – they will be able to help you choose an alternative heat pump if the brand you are after is not available.
Double glazing and extra insulation is a relatively cheap way to cut your carbon footprint. Stick to standard-issue white PVC for windows to keep costs and shipping times down, while simple jobs like topping up loft insulation can be done DIY.
When it comes to electric cars, there are ways around the delays, if buyers are prepared to compromise on model and vehicle spec. The Vauxhall Corsa-e, the BMW i3, and the Kia e-Niro are among the electric models with immediate availability, according to Electrifying.com. Buy a BMW instead of a Tesla, for example, and you could be driving an EV this weekend instead of next Christmas.
Meanwhile, dealerships may have some models in stock, Ms Buckley said: “It may not be the exact version you’re looking for, but if you’re willing to compromise on the finishing touches like it’s colour and wheels, you might be able to get hold of a car in a few days, rather than a few months.”