Decade of transformation

efficiency insulation
Liz Male, Liz Male Consulting, gives the lowdown on the growing importance of energy efficiency

The country’s home energy efficiency facts are well known.  The energy used in homes accounts for more than a quarter of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. More energy is used in housing than either road transport or industry. Over 5 million households are in fuel poverty, particularly those who don’t have access to mains gas.

But it’s not a great surprise. Much of Britain’s housing was built well before the links between energy use and climate change were understood, and insulation was generally poor.  Fast forward to 2050 and the UK wants to be operating at least 80 percent below the emissions that we produced in 1990. Therefore, given that we have the oldest, leakiest and most energy-hungry homes in Europe, improving the fabric of these buildings is an environmental priority alongside an urgent need to boost the energy generated via renewables.

In October 2012, the government created the legal foundations for a “decade of transformation” of buildings in Britain, a new framework that will facilitate greater energy efficiency in our homes and businesses. In particular, there was a fanfare for the Green Deal which has been billed as “the most ambitious home improvement programme since the Second World War”.

The Green Deal will become much higher profile in 2013, and may well integrate with other incentives being considered by government. But for now, it is based on a few key principles:

The home owner or tenant will not need to have all the money up front to pay for home energy improvements. A Green Deal Provider will arrange the necessary funding for certain energy saving measures and the scheme lets people repay that funding over time through the electricity bill. The charge stays with the house, not the occupant, until it’s all paid off.

Repayments will be no more than what a typical household should save in energy costs. This is the ‘Golden Rule’ which ensures the affordability of the scheme.  Of course, the actual savings will depend on how much energy is used and the future costs of energy, but the aim is that the home energy improvements should pay for themselves through reduced energy bills in a reasonable period of time. The repayments just get added automatically to the electricity bill.

We may all be able to access Green Deal finance (at a likely fixed interest rate of between 6-8%) for most or all of the measures, or we may be required (or choose) to pay for the home energy improvements ourselves, and may also be eligible for other financial assistance via the energy companies’ parallel scheme called ECO. There are cashbacks for some measures to encourage thousands of us to get in on the action early. The precise mix of funding options will probably be different for everyone.

If the circumstances are right and appropriate for the property in question, the Green Deal can be used to achieve a wide range of measures, including all sorts of insulation for walls, floors and roofs, new heating systems and controls, draughtproofing and new windows and doors.

The UK has around 6 million solid wall properties which are considered ‘hard to treat’ so almost certainly this is where the emphasis will lie at the start, with a big push on internal and external wall insulation. But in time, the focus will increasingly move towards microgeneration of energy as well as energy saving. In some properties, Green Deal could help fund renewable energy technologies such as solar PV, solar thermal, heat pumps, biomass boilers and (in very exposed, windy areas) micro wind turbines.

For many households, these options for energy generation will be a lot more attractive than the prospect of disruptive building works to the fabric of their homes, so it certainly makes sense to look at renewable energy solutions and to explore whether this could become part of a Green Deal.