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Warm homes, greener homes: the government's vision for 2020

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 3 March 2010 at 9:32 pm

Reduced energy use, savings on energy bills and more comfortable homes in cold weather are the benefits claimed by government of its household energy management strategy, Warm Homes, Greener Homes launched on Tuesday at Ecobuild by Ed Miliband.

Its aims are that:

  • Every home, where practical, will have loft and cavity wall insulation by 2015
  • Every home in Britain will have a smart meter and display to help them better manage their use of energy
  • Up to 7 million households will have had an eco-upgrade which would include measures such as solid wall insulation or heat pumps alongside smart meters and more basic measures.
  • People living in rented accommodation will enjoy higher levels of energy efficiency as landlords (private and social) take action to improve the fabric of buildings.
  • There will be a core of up to 65,000 people employed in the new industry of energy efficiency, and potentially several times more down supply chains. Jobs will include installing and manufacturing energy saving measures or providing home energy advice.

There are four main ways it aims to deliver the strategy, which will continue from, and build on, the existing Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) programme from 2012.

1. Community partnerships with an enhanced role for local authorities. Energy companies will be obliged to consult with local authorities to deliver local area based programmes and district heating. Where a local authority has a Local Carbon Framework covering household energy efficiency, energy companies must agree with the local authority that their plans are in line with it before acting. In the longer term the government aims for local authorities to take responsibility for reducing carbon use in homes in their area. Councils can offer incentives such as council tax rebates to encourage take up.

2. The social housing sector will lead the way in improving the energy efficiency of the rented sector. A new Warm Homes standard will be added to the Decent Homes standard that social landlords must meet. This will cover insulation and connection, where possible, to low carbon district heating or renewable heating. Social tenants will be given priority treatment under the new energy company obligation to 2015.

Tenants in privately owned properties have not been forgotten. Regulations will be introduced to make installation of loft and cavity wall insulation where feasible a condition of renting out a property from a date in the future (not before 2015).

3. Making it affordable. There are two strands to this. From 2012 energy companies will be obliged to invest in energy saving, including loft and cavity wall insulation and eco-upgrades. This will differ from CERT, which it replaces, in three ways. The energy companies will be required to work with local authorities. The guidance will be more specific about target groups, including vulnerable households on low incomes, with which the energy companies are expected to work. Thirdly, it will be more transparent. Energy companies will have to be clear about how much they have spent, what they have spent it on, and in which part of the country.

There will also be regulation to allow a new form of finance for the upfront costs of energy efficiency upgrades, such as solid wall insulation or renewable energy. This will allow consumers to pay as they save - repaying the installation costs from savings in energy bills or from income from the feed-in tariff or renewable heat incentive. Pay as you Save (PAYS) schemes will be provided by the private sector, but the government will introduce legislation that allows the cost of the upgrade to be attached to the home, rather than to the individual - so homeowners are only responsible for the payments when they are benefitting from the measures.

4. Consumer support. The government will set up a new free and universally available advice service to help people understand the impact of measures and compare the benefits. Energy companies will be expected to offer more tailored advice through Home Energy Advice packages. A new certification scheme will include standards for people who provide advice, and for installers.

First impressions

My first impression is disappointment that PAYS - an affordable, long-term loan scheme that is attached to the house, and not the borrower  - won't be with us until at least 2012. It remains to be seen whether the private sector can come up with anything before the legislation goes through that will make the bigger ticket energy efficiency and renewable energy measures affordable by people who don't have spare capital.

I cautiously welcome the move to community partnerships, particularly ones that include local community and third sector organisations. I remain confused as to why so much of the energy reduction programme lies in the hands of the energy companies. Surely - however much they are made to deliver these services - their interests are best served by getting us to buy more energy?

I applaud initiatives to improve the energy efficiency standards for the rented sector, and to prioritise vulnerable consumers and those in fuel poverty.

However, I wonder how many of the ideas in this document will become action. If Labour loses the election, will the next government go back to the drawing board, or will they keep the good stuff, and keep the welcome (though belated) momentum going? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

 Photo by Suzan Almond


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