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Why this fascination with measures?

Parity Projects Managing Director Russell Smith reflects on the energy efficiency recommendations in the National Infrastructure Assessment

The National Infrastructure Assessment, published earlier this week, brings a welcome new perspective on the importance of home energy efficiency.  But it is nowhere near radical enough to deliver the transformation we need.

A key recommendation from the Commission is for the Government to set a target for the rate of installations of energy efficiency measures in homes: 21,000 measures per week by 2020, maintained at this level until a decision on future heat infrastructure is taken.

This is a very significant step change from current activity levels and in that sense is a good thing.  But why this fascination with ‘measures’?  A ‘measure’ doesn’t deliver a fixed energy or carbon saving: this depends also on the context.  A narrative based on measures encourages industry to forget that there are people in homes.  And they matter.

Fixating on ‘measures’ might help to shape a delivery mechanism but it has wholeheartedly failed to excite customers, who react to comfort, health or control.  No customers; no industry.  But if you can get customers excited, they will pay for improvements themselves, if they can (and if the right sort of finance is made available).

Rather than taking a ‘programme delivery’ perspective, why not think instead in terms of asset management?  From this perspective, it is critical to build an infrastructure, competencies and a narrative that provides a plan to all households, and soon.  Whether a single measure is the first activity or the whole house is renovated in one hit, the up-front assessment and design approach is identical.  It shows the householder the journey that they are on, and can be used by industry to illustrate the end-point: the high performance home that delivers what the householder wants.

Will this approach work?  I know it does because we use it for all our customers.

Another Commission recommendation is for the allocation of £3.8 billion of public funding between now and 2030 to deliver energy efficiency improvements in social housing.  More public funding to support investment when the household is not able to pay is very much needed, but why target the tenure that is already performing the best?  Is it because it is thought to be easier, given the procurement capabilities of the landlords concerned?  Taking the easy route may get the money spent, but is it the best way to address the fuel poverty problem?

The Commission wants to see Government continuing to trial innovative approaches for driving energy efficiency in the owner-occupier market. On the face of it a good idea, but when we start talking about ‘early days’ and delivering results in a few years’ time, I start to worry: we need Government incentives to nudge renovation choices sooner rather than later – innovations can accelerate the change as they come in.

Last, but not least, the Commission wants the Government to set out, by the end of 2018, how regulations in the Private Rented Sector will be robustly enforced and tightened over time.  I wholeheartedly agree!  The introduction of MEES to date has been half-hearted at best, with far too many built-in get outs for less responsible landlords.

So; a mixed bag.  But back to that original point about 21,000 measures per week until a decision on future heat infrastructure is taken.  What then?  Whatever the heat infrastructure decision, we must use less.  We need responsible retrofit at scale, starting now and continuing until all our homes are high energy performance, delivering the home environment that we want.

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