The urgent need for action to tackle climate change has been recognised at a local as well as national level. Many local authorities have set their own climate change targets, mostly to reach net zero emissions. A report by Ecuity for the Local Government Association, forecasts that this will support an estimated 690,000 low-carbon jobs in England by 2030, rising to more than 1.18 million by 2050. By 2030, over a fifth of these low carbon jobs will involve installing energy efficiency products such as insulation, lighting and control systems.
Health and Wellbeing
In addition, a well-designed energy efficiency retrofit programm rolled out regionally, taking into account factors impacting upon the wellbeing of the occupants like thermal comfort, air quality, acoustics and lighting, could reduce spend on public health and address fuel poverty. According to the BRE, the effects of poor housing are costing the NHS a staggering 2.5 billion pounds per year, with the estimated social and economic cost of leaving people in poor housing in the region of 18 billion pounds per year. At a time when many of us are spending almost all our time indoors due to Covid-19 restrictions, and with the UK having some of the worst housing stock in Europe, improvements to the indoor built environment have never been so important.
Rolling out energy efficiency modernisation
The SEA recognises that there is no single solution to decarbonising energy in buildings. A range of technology solutions, financing models, and delivery methods are required. In practice, reducing the energy needs of buildings requires a multi technology solution, tailored to the circumstances of the building and its occupants. In other words, a whole house, technology neutral approach, which starts with the fabric.
Local approaches need to reflect differences in housing stock, climatic conditions, local income levels, etc. This is because local authorities are closer to the point of delivery, they have a greater understanding of these particular needs and can therefore play a key role. Local authorities can also play a coordination role, both in aggregating demand and in procuring for value. A visible pipeline of work for local installers and their supply chains will help provide confidence to invest in the necessary capacity building, training, development, innovation, and modernisation of their businesses.
The typical lowest cost and short-term model that exists today encourages cutting corners. In contrast, procuring for value optimises purchasing power to drive positive change that helps to ensure that the right long-term outcomes are achieved. The Construction Leadership Council has developed an interactive toolkit that can assist clients in procuring for value.
The ‘contagion affect’ of local projects should not be underestimated in helping to drive demand. Property owners and residents will learn of local campaigns and aspire for the same benefits of comfort and warmth. A new social norm for building energy efficiency is driven by seeing and hearing real life examples of the benefits.
‘Sticks and carrots’ should also be used in conjunction to drive consumer demand for energy efficiency. For example, variable stamp duty and council tax.
And finally, the provision of local energy advice is required to access ‘hard to reach’ households who are digitally excluded and in helping them apply for available funding.
Overcoming physical installation Challenges
The industry needs to develop the knowledge and skills to deliver net zero and improve health and wellbeing in the built environment, from design skills through to installation.
Many of the worst performing buildings are solid wall properties and more difficult to treat, requiring more technically complex solutions. This means we need more advanced tools to help address such properties. A building passport could be used to take advantage of trigger points, such as when the property is sold, or major home improvements are planned, which can help to minimise the barriers of inconvenience and disruption for the occupant. The passport could also provide details of the existing structure, which coupled with a holistic approach, can minimise the risk of unintended consequences, such as overheating, mould and moisture problems.
Many government funded retrofit schemes now require the use of Trustmark registered installers and compliance with PAS2035, which includes the requirement for a project to be overseen by a Retrofit Coordinator. Taking this approach should help provide support in assessing and bringing together the right measures for a particular property, overcoming the physical installation challenges, and ensuring quality. In addition, monitoring should be required to ensure the performance gap is minimised.
While many of the individual technologies and solutions exist today, productivity of retrofit work is still very low compared to other areas in construction, where efforts are being made to drive uptake in Modern Methods of Construction and digital technologies. Taking a more innovative, a system build approach to retrofit would help to scale up delivery and increase productivity at a local level. Initiatives like Energiesprong are emerging but are nowhere near the norm.
Impact of the Green Homes Grant
The 1.5 billion pound Green Homes Grant voucher scheme was launched in September and later extended to the end of March 2022. Homeowners and landlords in England can get up to £5,000 to pay part of the cost of energy saving measures like insulation and low carbon heating. Low-income households can get 100% of the costs of work up to £10,000.
The main objective of the scheme was to help stimulate a green recovery and provide job retention following the initial lockdown. However, the sector has seen very little impact so far. Understandably, a speedy implementation of the scheme was needed. However, this has led to inevitable difficulties with administration. It is disappointing to note that as of December, two months after the scheme’s launch, only around 500 vouchers had been issued, despite over 42,000 applications. This is nowhere near the Government’s intended target of 600,000 homes but without transparency from BEIS on the numbers, it remains difficult to assess the actual impact of the scheme. A failure to issue vouchers at scale has left smaller businesses, who haven’t been paid for months, desperate for more to be done to get the much-needed support scheme moving.
The latest lockdown has added further delays to the delivery of the scheme with the poor weather at this time of year only worsening the problem. In addition, there is a lack of registered and suitably certified installers. High quality installations are essential to the scheme’s success and the SEA welcomed the implementation of a strong assurance framework. However, implementing such a change to the renovation market in short time frames has caused delays for businesses hoping to benefit.
In the short term, the industry desperately needs the administrative barriers to the Green Homes Grant resolving, an extension to the voucher lifetime and a rollover of funding from phase 1 into phase 2. We also need transparency of the data to understand where the demand is coming from geographically.
With the right support, the industry will deliver the improvements needed in homes and buildings across the country and will play a key role in the delivery of the UK’s net zero emissions target. However, it is essential that national and local governments recognise the support the industry needs to scale up and deliver. Long term, joined up policy is vital for creating confidence and providing the much needed economic growth and recovery.
A blog by Jade Lewis.
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