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Joined-up thinking needed to heat homes

ImageThere are still millions of homes in the UK suitable for loft and cavity wall insulation. Shouldn’t tackling these be the foundation of the Green Deal?

This summer, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne issued a stark warning to the Big Six energy companies. Double the number of homes you help insulate between now and December 2012 or face fines that by law can amount to 10 per cent of your global turnover.

These investments by the energy companies are mandated under the Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT). The fourth in a contiguous series of such programmes terminates in a year’s time. For the past 17 years, energy companies have been helping their – and other companies’ – customers to install energy-saving devices.

The devices installed have ranged from better boilers and appliances, through heating controls and consumption monitoring devices, and latterly to low-flow showerheads and compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

Unrequested lightbulbs

Since Chris Huhne took charge, oversight of CERT has tightened. Initially, energy companies had been permitted to deliver their targets however they sought fit, within the scheme’s rules. This resulted in the proliferation of unrequested lightbulbs, twelve for every home in the UK, and other scams like energy display units supplied with batteries that last for only a fraction of the time for which savings are credited.

The new rules introduced last year for the first time instructed the energy companies to concentrate upon installing insulation. Further, when this summer it seemed that the energy companies weren’t responding with sufficiently increased installations, Mr. Huhne issued that dire warning of vast fines for non-compliance.

It now seems that the energy companies are setting to with a vengeance. This winter and next, lots more homes will have their cavity walls insulated, the thin lagging in their lofts topped up. So many that a myth has begun to develop. A myth suggesting that come the start of the Green Deal programme a year from now, there will be few if any of these cost-effective insulation jobs left to be undertaken.

This is embellished by publication of the official impact assessment, issued alongside the legislation that facilitated the Green Deal. This document forecast that the Green Deal would lead to a reduction in the number of buildings insulated. The numbers of cavity walls filled would drop in 2013 to the lowest number for 20 years.

Alarm signals set off. Installation contractors realised that the trainees preparing for the 2011/12 surge could be redundant come 2013

Manufacturers grew concerned about investment in massive new capacity, built under pressure from Ministers promising expanding markets. Government officials are heard warning that practically all the basic insulation measures have been installed. Asserting that attention must turn to encouraging insulation of older, solid walled buildings.

Fair enough. The insulation industry started taking the necessary initial steps, to turn a niche market into a mass one. Not least by creating new training requirements, and a Guarantee Agency to provide consumer confidence. The same manufacturers began gearing up to diversify.

But both manufacturers and installers are very aware of the unrealistic timescales in which the revolution of the insulation industry is expected to happen. They are also aware of the opportunities remaining in their existing product lines, realisation of which would support the transition expected of them. They are not convinced that the marketplace for loft and cavity wall insulation was as exhausted as some inferred.

Collapse projected

So a consortium approached my Association’s research team with a quite specific brief. Assume that the present CERT programme delivers its target insulation installations in full and on time. Examine how many homes in Britain still could benefit from installation of these measures. And then come up with ideas as to how, following current government policy guidelines, we could best ensure as many as possible of these remaining are delivered between 2013 and 2015. All in order to try to ensure that the marketplace collapse projected in the government’s own Green Deal impact assessment does not become a reality.

The Dead CERT project was born. Its conclusions are reassuringly bullish. At the end of 2012, there will still be over 6.3m homes of predominantly cavity wall construction and 10.3m lofts suitable for insulation. Of these cavities, 3.6m can be considered ‘traditional” or “conventionally easy”, where the barrier is neither technical nor cost, the rest having narrower or non-traditional cavities.

So there is an enormous amount of ostensibly very cost-effective insulation remaining to be achieved. Logically this should form the backbone of the Green Deal programme.

What is required for this to be realised is an alignment between the Green Deal and the new Energy Company Obligation (ECO). Inclusion of loft and cavity wall insulation as allowable measures to meet the carbon target within the ECO, but at no cost to the programme and hence energy customers, would significantly reduce uncertainty in this key market. For the first time, we can improve the homes of those who are able to pay. But to date have been so hard to reach.

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