Not everyone in Wales is a fan of the green revolution. Despite the targets set by Welsh Government to change the way we heat our homes and improve the energy ratings and heat generated through better insulation there are those who are just not comfortable with the stories they have heard about the disruption and unreliability around eco schemes.
There are some very pertinent questions being asked. When everything has been installed who is responsible for the maintenance. Who comes out to repair a broken air source heat pump? How long does the warranty last on equipment? What happens in winter when solar panels are not as efficient in generating power for the electricity hungry pumps and heating systems? Add to this the horror stories doing the rounds about teams who have wrecked homes and companies, which have disappeared overnight and you can understand if only a small percentage of the horror stories and concerns are valid why people are dragging their heels when it comes to applying for what is essentially a free overhaul of their power, heating and insulation systems.
The questions can range from, will they cover my carpets to how long have the electricians been qualified? How many solar panels will I need to save money and what is their lifespan? It depends to whom you talk to and what experiences they have either had or heard about.
In Carmarthenshire one cannot move for vans with logos promoting green energy, free heating systems and solar panels. The bed and breakfast businesses are doing a roaring trade with teams who come from as far afield as Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and the Welsh Valleys. It seems like a free-for-all and with the wages being so good who can blame anyone for setting up a company and employing tradesmen.
The revolution is moving at such a fast pace that the reality is that there just are not enough people with the skills or experience in this field to meet demand and to ensure a high quality service. There is a ‘bing bang bosh attitude’ to the work says Andrew, who recently had the ‘whole shebang’ as he says done at his Welsh stone cottage in Carmarthenshire.
Andrew said: “The team of plasterers arrived and began work almost immediately taking off scurtain boards and picture rails. I didn’t have time to put any cloths down on the carpets. The installers assured me that they would place covers down, which they did eventually but not before some damage was done. I can honestly say I was having a mini breakdown by the end of the first day. The disruption is not for the feint hearted.” Andrew said that despite the issues surrounding cleaning and the bags of discarded materials mounting up in his garden he was glad he went through with the changes.
Cathy who also lives in rural Carmarthenshire and had existed on oil central heating said that she had taken up the offer because she believed it would save her money and it was good for the planet. Cathy has grown up in a generation transfixed by the environment, climate change and alternative energy. ‘It is a no brainer’, she said. “When I got the opportunity to change the fossil fuel hungry oil boiler for solar powered air heat source pump I didn’t blink. Sure there is a bit of chaos because the work is messy but if you are prepared to look past that you will find that at the end of it all the work is completed and you have your home back with a much more energy efficient system, which is kinder to the planet. I owe that to my young children.”
David who owns a large property in Carmarthenshire told us that he was sceptical about having one of the many packages for alternative heating of his home. He said: “As it was we were paying a small fortune for heating and hot water using a combination of a gas and oil. We were also using wood to burn on fires in our main living areas. They were all becoming expensive to run and we explored the possibility of the air source heat pump combined with solar power and better insulation. We had heard the nightmare stories but we wanted to find out for ourselves. We made the application and less then three weeks later the work has been completed. Was it stressful? Yes it was. Do we regret having the work done? No, not when we see the power generated by the solar panels and the efficiency of the heating system. We just have to learn to do things differently now and make sure we use the majority of that solar powered energy by day. It is a lifestyle change.”
We spoke to a number of people in Carmarthenshire who had applied for the eco scheme grants. We have found a lot of scepticism and we have heard from people who have complained about the mess and disruption but even they have acknowledged that the change has been beneficial and they have felt the difference in heat in their homes very quickly.
Given that most home owners will be of a certain age and may not have grown up as part of the climate change obsessed generation of today, Welsh Government still have a lot of work to do in convincing them. Not enough information exists to appease concerns and reassure people over the simple questions like who and where they go to if the air source heat pump breaks down. How do they manage the digital gadgets, which control the systems?
If the Welsh Government really want to take Welsh home owners with them on the green revolution journey they need to reconsider the marketing and information packages and tailor those into a Dummy’s Guide. They might also like to insist on a cleaner approach to the workspace and invest heavily in training more highly skilled Welsh based tradesmen and women. The technology is impressive but it would make real sense to provide better information on the benefits financially and environmentally backed up with research conducted over a period of time. Being a revolution it is the new and an as yet unknown. People want to know more and they want to hear how it related to them and their home but therein lies a problem as there are just so many variants of homes in Wales with the majority in rural areas being stone wall slate roof built. Any studies need to include this data.
The industry has holes in it which need filling. From skills base to simple documentation providing instructions for use for people who just cannot get to grips with the new technology. There are already glitches with pumps or solar installations breaking down and that in itself has to generate the businesses and find the people to deal with the demand, which will increase as systems get older. The advice is to read the small print and don’t sign anything off until you are completely satisfied.