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Let’s continue this UK success story

ImageIn two months almost 120,000 inefficient boilers were replaced under the boiler scrappage scheme. Why doesn’t England follow Scotland’s example?

Let us celebrate an energy saving success story. A tale of a government-backed programme, which both began and ended last year. It delivered all it was intended to do. And more.

The boiler scrappage scheme did just what its name suggests. It nudged owners of elderly, gas-guzzling, but (and this is critical) still functioning, heating boilers to replace these with up-to-the-minute alternatives.

Like refrigerators or washing machines, all boilers are graded from A to G, reflecting their energy performance. The difference between an A and a G rated boiler is frequently the difference between the appliance productively using the energy purchased productively for 93%+ of the time. Or for just two-thirds (sometimes even less).

The scrappage scheme offered a simple proposition. If you replace your G rated boiler with a contemporary model, you will receive a refund of £400. Not from the boiler manufacturer. Not from an energy company. But from the government.

This was the crucial point. It differentiated the scheme from myriad existing “discount” offers, which frequently have little resonance in a marketplace in which most prospective purchasers don’t have a clue about the price they might normally expect to pay for a new boiler. Above all, that official endorsement reassured participants that they weren’t being ripped off.

High levels of satisfaction

Certainly post hoc evaluation confirms very high levels of satisfaction. In just 8 weeks, some 118,618 efficient condensing boilers were installed. Between them, these are already saving a quarter of a million tonnes of carbon dioxide. An impressive 96% of participants were satisfied with the scheme, and importantly with the professionalism of the work undertaken.

Against some expectations, the scrappage scheme was not dominated by a handful of massive companies. What was most impressive was the sheer number of heating installers involved in the scheme – no less than 55,000 installation companies participated. Removing the need for specific national advertising campaigns, they were the ones who spread the word to prospective participants – truly an early example of the Big Society at work.

The big question mark might have been: wasn’t this simply rewarding people for undertaking a boiler replacement they would be bound to do? What about, as economists term it, the free-rider effect? Subsequent research established that, in almost 2 in 3 cases, nobody would have bothered replacing the existing boiler – however wasteful – in the absence of this “trigger’ effect.

Chances are that, without this stimulus, most of the boilers would still be in use this year, and next year, and the year after: endlessly patched-and-mended, endlessly wasteful.

Importantly, some 77% of those who had a new boiler put in used the occasion to commission other energy saving work at the same time – whether installing thermostatic radiator valves, insulation or new glazing. This is surely a very important signal for those charged with making sure that the Green Deal, due to launch in 12 months, really does stimulate a “whole building” approach, rather than just promoting isolated energy saving devices.

A small incentive like this, seldom covering even 20% of the capital costs of the boiler (let alone all the other measures), clearly can go a very long way towards changing consumer attitudes.

All these statistics are drawn from analysis of the English scheme. That closed 18 months ago. In contrast, in Scotland the administration has continued boiler scrappage, and is committed to installing at least 30,000 new condensing boilers under its auspices.

Enormous implications

Were such a scheme to be reintroduced south of the border, the implications could be enormous. There are still over 3.5 million G rated boilers trundling along. On a natural replacement rate, at least one-third will still be in use in 2020, wasting more and more fuel each year- burning a collective 32m tonnes of CO2 annually.

Calculations reveal that replacing these could remove at least 1/3 of that tonnage. To put this in context, achieving the equivalent savings would necessitate almost 3 million more solar PV installations- at significantly greater cost.

I am convinced that running further boiler scrappage schemes, available throughout Britain, would make excellent sense. It has been clearly demonstrated that such schemes create awareness. Not just of the value of energy labeling systems. But also of old boilers being inefficient and costly. And importantly, once you have agreed to the disruption of changing your boiler, to prompt getting lots of energy saving things done.

Such schemes activate some of the best advocates around for energy efficiency, the heating and plumbing engineers.

There is no promotional budget set aside for the Green Deal. Awareness of the opportunities it brings will depend upon the motivation of a whole series of professions and trades. The 55,000 independent installers who participated in the 2010 boiler scrappage scheme can be amongst our best ambassadors. Let us give them back this vital promotional tool, so that the ambitious aspirations enunciated by Ministers for the Green Deal can be realized.

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