Why we need to learn to love the Green Deal ...

... however hard that may be

5 February 2013

CSE’s Chief Executive, Simon Roberts OBE, takes aim at the many critics of the Green Deal ...

It’s very easy to take pot-shots at the Green Deal. And the media has been full of sniping journalists and short-sighted commentators blasting away at this barn door of a policy.

But there really isn’t much sport in hitting such an easy target; just a loud noise and some dangerous splintering of the positive reputation which the Green Deal actually needs for it to work.

Surely the real sport – the real challenge – is in making the Green Deal (and the Energy Company Obligation), actually work. Because it needs to work – particularly to help those of us living in pre-war homes to bring them up to standards required to make them low carbon and affordable to keep warm.

However shoddy the policy-making process (surely a case-study-to-be in how not to develop policy) and however frustratingly late the appearance of ‘real customers’ and marketing into DECC’s thinking, there is an inescapable, bullet-proof truth about the Green Deal. We now have a better set of tools to drive low carbon housing refurbishment than we had before.

  • "However shoddy the policy-making process ... we now have a better set of tools to drive low carbon housing refurbishment than we had before"

For example, creating a financing mechanism which turns predicted future energy bill savings into upfront capital and ties it to the bill not the person is really neat. It’s what anyone who’s ever talked about domestic energy service companies (ESCOs) has been wanting. The Green Deal does that. Pots shots can be taken at the higher-than-necessary interest rate and the insidious introduction of credit checking (the Government could have underwritten the credit risk for such a new financing mechanism and kept interest rates down). But the Green Deal financing mechanism is a clever new tool that has the potential to help many households to upgrade their homes.

Shifting attention and energy supplier obligation-driven subsidies from insulating cavities and lofts to the more difficult measures like solid wall insulation represents the start of the vital next phase in upgrading the UK’s homes. The ‘cliff edge’ transition from CERT to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) is worth a pot-shot, as is the reprehensible failure to make adequate provision for a decent affordable warmth programme. But something like Green Deal and ECO is definitely needed to shift the market on.

And creating an accreditation framework with insurance-backed warranties for these ‘next phase’ measures is a welcome intervention. Both barrels can be fired at DECC for failing to kick-start this process and make sure they had ways to stimulate the involvement of local SME building trades who currently do 95% of Britain’s general housing refurbishment – the sort of work that needs to go ‘low carbon’. But the new framework is still a step forward.

Time for a cease fire

These are all better tools than we had before the Green Deal and ECO came along. But the main item missing now is demand from customers, and that’s the very thing which the barn-door blasting may be undermining.

We’ve been working on this at CSE. Our experience is that, when given the opportunity and a sense of shared local enthusiasm, many people are keen to start taking these next steps in upgrading their homes with solid wall insulation and improved heating controls. Our Bristol Home Energy Upgrade scheme has been overwhelmed by householder demand. Local community groups are enrolling in our new initiative to encourage take-up across Somerset. And there’s been extensive interest in our new PlanLoCaL toolkit for community groups to get involved in local activity on energy efficiency and the Green Deal.

So rather than seeking the short-lived pride of hitting such an easy target, we all need to take aim at the real quarry – finding ways to make the Green Deal and ECO work for people whom we’ve motivated to upgrade their homes.

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