Ecobonus: boilers and air conditioners, the jungle of prices | Milena Gabanelli

To combat global warming, there is no longer a minute to lose: it is necessary to drastically reduce CO2 emissions and the European directives have set mandatory milestones for each member country. Reducing the consumption of electricity is imperative. For this reason, most of the countries of the Union, in various forms, help citizens who take steps to eliminate heat loss in their homes or install less energy-intensive appliances. Also the Italian State finances those who decide to carry out radical interventions such as thermal coats, the replacement of fixtures or old boilers, the installation of heat pumps or an air conditioner that can also heat in winter. The new condensing boilers save up to 30% of energy compared to traditional ones, by recycling the heat of their own fumes. But how does this incentive work and how is it achieved?

The tax deduction

The campaigns to support energy efficiency started in 2018 and the results were seen immediately. From the data produced by Enea (the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development), only for the purchase of boilers and air conditioners, Italians have benefited from about 78 thousand incentives with a total energy saving of 278 GWh / year and a cost to the state of approximately 300 million euros. The refund mechanism it works like this: the Revenue Agency returns 50% of the cost for a standard model, 65% if the model has evolved and detects the temperature in the various rooms to modulate heat production. The procedure, however, is complex: you need to be assisted by a technician to fill in the file, send it to Enea for verification of compliance, and then the money will be deducted from the tax return in the form of a tax deduction in ten years.


Door-to-door selling

In the last year, sales have soared: we have gone from 16,000 heat pumps and 62,000 boilers sold in 2018, to almost 70,000 air conditioners and 171,000 boilers in 2020. With the forecast to exceed 206,000 in 2021. And the figures do not include the many devices purchased with the “super bonus of 110%”. What happened? In May 2020 (Law Decree 34) the “tax credit” arrived: the seller can discount you from 50 to 65% of the cost directly on the invoice at the time of purchase and he will then take care of collecting the difference from the State in within a year. The effect of the decree, in addition to producing benefits for the environment, has revitalized leading sectors of the economy such as construction, plant engineering and plumbing. Business is so good that it is hard to find a free installer. According to Cresme, in April those who carried out energy redevelopment interventions accumulated over 60% more tax credit compared to a year ago, when the direct assignment of the credit was not operational. Multi-utilities have thrown themselves into the deal. The giants of gas and energy offer their products door to door, keys in hand, and make them pay in small, convenient installments in their bills. But their quotes, if you read carefully, and compare with the prices charged in the shops, they are incredibly heavy. Let’s see some examples.


Prices compared

To replace our old boiler, the person in charge of Eni Gas e Luce offered us a Riello Residence 30. Excellent product made in Italy. The invoice is 3,991 euros (the estimate): 2,911 of product, 1,080 of unspecified ancillary charges, 30 of salts against limestone. We pay 35% of it, including the installation, that is 1,396 euros, the State the remaining 2,595 (65%) to Eni Gas e Luce. What if we bought the product in the store? The price is about 1600 euros all inclusive (1,089 for the boiler): 560 are at our expense, 1040 the state will return them to us in ten years. Compared to the contract with Eni we save over 800 euros, the State 1500. The heat pump, on the other hand, is installed by RetiEnergia, a service provider delegated by several large multi-utilities. For the Haier Tundra 2.0 35 (Chinese production) he asks us 1,957 euros (the estimate): we pay 685, 1272 the state. If we go to the shop, the Tundra itself costs only 440 euros, including VAT and delivery (the estimate). To which must be added the assembly cost, for a maximum cost of 250 euros. Total expenditure: 690 euros, of which the state reimburses 450. Monstrous recharges that the consumer often does not even notice because he is attentive only to the final cost. The multi-utilities consulted justify the mark-ups with the management costs of the file and the credit advance. Manufacturers do not help to clarify the real costs of the products. Called into question, Haier Italia says that “there are no price lists, the prices for sellers are highly confidential”, but from the Angaisa trade association they clarify that the discount reserved for the seller is around 50% and already alone allows a good margin of I earn.


Stores in crisis

It is clear that buying a boiler or air conditioner plus assembly directly in the store would be cheaper for everyone. The problem is that the citizen must then think about asking for the tax deduction in 10 years, because the small and medium retailers step aside: they do not have the liquidity to advance the money that is refunded after a year. In fact, they remain cut off from the market and are in crisis. The alternative is large-scale distribution which applies a mark-up to manage the practice, but around 20%, not from 100 to 150% as multi-utilities do.. If, on the other hand, the product is offered to you at home, with the pounding marketing of technicians / sellers of the energy giants, you are stimulated to buy and everything is more comfortable. Patience if the promoter of multi-utilities often recommends a new device even where a simple repair would be enough, because «with a tax credit it is worthwhile».

It is clear that buying a boiler or air conditioner plus assembly directly in the store would be cheaper for everyone.

The state, which reimburses boilers and air conditioners even at three times their value, has its faults: the tax refund mechanism is complicated and diluted over a long period of time. In France, the credit for energy improvements (the new 2021 program is called MaPrimeRénov) reimburses 40 to 90% of the amount spent in just 5 years. Controls on spending limits and installation methods are rigorous and there is no incentive: the percentage is linked to income brackets and the composition of the family unit. In Italy, the 65% discount applies equally to rich and poor, singles and families with four children. Transalpine citizens have access to an Internet portal that guides them step by step in completing the application; for the Italian one, surveyor skills are needed. As far as the spending limits are concerned, they are too wide and vague: on the ministerial price lists the maximum figure indicated is “up to 30 thousand euros”, because they are sized on condominiums and not on apartments. It means that those who invoice a boiler at double its value risk nothing. “What you report – explains engineer Domenico Prisinzano, of the Energy Efficiency Unit of Enea – is a potentially serious problem, which must be investigated”.


A 470 million hole

But who should investigate? The State delegates to Enea the management of the practices to evaluate the energy savings obtained from the replacement of the equipment. Anomalies are expected to be detected, to be communicated to the Mite and the Revenue Agency. But it is the Revenue Agency that must carry out the checks before disbursing the reimbursements. To date, no one has checked whether an air conditioner or boiler is charged double or triple the market price. Let’s do the math: the Mef for these two devices has budgeted 500 million a year of incentives. If the markup has been applied to all 171,000 boilers and 80,000 air conditioners installed in 2020, they make about 470 million euros more. And there will be no cash.

July 4th 2021 | 21:29

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