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Energy efficiency: it’s not so special!

Not perhaps what you would expect me to say… but of course I don’t mean that energy efficiency isn’t a wonderful thing. I mean, we should stop trying to separate it out from the other things people do every day.

The Each Home Counts review talks about setting up a separate quality system for home energy efficiency work. Why? Of course we need excellent quality control and customer assurance. But don’t we need this for all work in people’s homes? Isn’t there a risk that, by highlighting the quality control for energy efficiency work, we make it seem like something inherently more risky than other home improvements?

The Green Deal has a ‘Golden Rule’ for finance that only allows people to borrow to a level that will be covered by energy bill savings. Again, the consumer protection benefits of this approach are clear. But someone lending for any other home improvement would only want to be happy that the client could repay the loan; they wouldn’t care about precisely which budget the repayments were coming from. Pay-As-You-Save has a point, but finance providers may want to sell the fact that energy bill savings will help cover repayments whilst at the same time offering additional money for an investment that also delivers comfort and asset value improvements.

Energy efficiency does indeed have some ‘special’ characteristics: it delivers social benefits (including health sector savings and reduced energy imports) that perhaps far outweigh the immediate private benefits to energy consumers. And it faces some barriers that other home improvements don’t (it’s hard to show off your new wall insulation…). So, there are good reasons to implement policy that specifically supports energy efficiency.

But as we develop this policy, we should think about how we make energy efficiency part of ‘the way we do things here’. Not how we make it special. We want to reach a point where people invest in energy efficiency in the same way that they invest in other building improvements – because they recognise that it will make their home / place of work ‘nicer’ to be in; because they believe that it will add value to their property; because it is ‘the done thing’. Not because it is something special, something they should do, something that will set them apart.
If we change our point of view, perhaps we will start to formulate policy that works with the existing refurbishment market, that takes into account the structure of the existing supply chain, and that is actually deliverable.

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