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How can we stop the Green Deal being the preserve of a few big companies?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 1 September 2011 at 9:13 am

Energy minister Greg Barker released an article yesterday outlining how the coalition is meeting its pledge to be the greenest goverment ever.

It started well: "Being green and transforming our economy away from dependence on expensive fossil fuels to one powered by low carbon energy is no 'tree huggers' charter," he said.

"It’s an essential prerequisite of a modern and successful twenty-first century globally competitive economy.

"It’s about warmer homes, quieter and cleaner cars, greater economic and energy security, as well as jobs and business opportunities created by the low-carbon transition."

That all sounds lovely. But, (why does there always have to be a but - I really do want to be saying positive things about government policy) when he got on to the Green Deal, I got worried. He describes it as "Britain's biggest home improvement programme since the second world war.

"Its purpose is simple: to stamp out for good the huge energy wastage that’s afflicting Britain’s homes and businesses. Our buildings are often old and inefficient in how they are heated, which means a massive upgrade is needed."

So far, so good.

Then he goes on to say that the Green Deal will establish a framework to enable well-known high street names - the likes of B&Q and M&S - to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements and recoup payments through a charge in installments on the energy bill.

Alarm bells started to ring. I've got no problem with B&Q and M&S per se, or with them offering this programme. But I do have visions of it being another stitch up where a small number of national companies, subsidised by government, corners the market delivering a lowest common denominator service - piling them high and selling them cheap.

This is what happened with CERT funding in the loft and cavity wall market. As a result, if you want something different: say sheeps wool, newspaper or polystyrene beads for insulation most of the main companies don't offer it, it's hugely more expensive, and there's not a skilled workforce of local small businesses who can step into the gap, because there's not enough of a market left for them to bother.

Making old, leaky houses energy efficient isn't a pile it high, sell it cheap type job. It's specialist and each building - and it's residents, users, owners - are different. They need a tailored service. They are more likely to go ahead when they are getting some other work done on their home. They are more likely to go ahead if it's done by someone they trust.

That's why I believe that it is vital that the Green Deal does not exclude small and medium sized companies. It should embrace them and I call on the government to encourage and support those business in getting the necessary skills to offer excellent advice, and deliver good quality work. Most of all, I call on them to make sure that householders can use their trusted, local tradespeople to do their Green Deal work. We don't want another lowest common denominator programme.

The question is, how do we get this message across loud and clear to Greg Barker?

Photo by siftnz


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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4 comments - read them below or add one

Adrian Wright

Adrian Wright from Comment left on: 12 September 2011 at 3:39 pm

Just to clarify the point Cathy makes below (which was from an email I sent her), it is our company Enact Energy which has made it obligatory for its installers to offer sheep's wool insulation to its customers since 2007 not all CERT companies, apologies for the confusion.

With regards to the other points made by Cathy and David,  I should first declare an interest, Enact Energy manages the home efficiency service for both Tesco and M&S.  In terms of experience, I founded Enact in 1996 and had been in the energy efficiency industry for several years before this.  Enact has installed energy efficiency upgrades into more that 300,000 British homes and managed programmes for over 100 local councils across Britain.  Our experience is wide ranging and in addition to home insulation we have an expertise in home energy assessments, have been installing solar thermal since 2000 and all the way back in 2002 installed a major building integrated PV system onto the Civic Centre in Barnstaple.  

Our business model is that we manage the customer's journey from start to finish but do not carry out the actual installation ourselves.  We pride ourselves in working with small to medium sized installers and welcome any reputable installer who wishes to join our network.  Through this network approach we have been able to give smaller installers access to funding for insulation from energy suppliers and work from retail giants Tesco and M&S that they would have been unable to access directly.  

In the case of PV, Enact and its retail partners fund the high cost of marketing to generate leads, we fund the working capital required to buy and supply the PV kits so our installers don't have to, we are MCS (and REAL) accredited in our own right so produce the system designs in house, we underwrite the warranty for the customer regardless of whether the installer remains in business and we have a robust post inspection and contractual relationship to ensure the works are carried out to high standards.  All of this costs a great deal of money and most installers recognise this and value the work from us in addition to installing their own generated work.

With the high volumes of work that we deliver and the multiple contractors that deliver the service into customers' homes, we don't always get things right.  However, to us and our retail partners, customer satisfaction is of the utmost importance so when things do go wrong, we work extremely hard to put things right. 

Green Deal is a very complicated beast, the assessments, the software, the financing, accreditation and compliance will be a nightmare.  Not all small companies will have the money or expertise to become Green Deal Providers and therefore working under the umbrella of an organisation such as ours will ensure that no company, no matter how small, will be excluded from Green Deal. 

P.S. David, we have an excellent network of installers working for Tesco and since the beginning have been installing Sharp panels and either Fronius or SMA inverters so I assume your comments about 'poor products' and 'monkeys' refer to others?! ;-)

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 11 September 2011 at 9:23 pm

I've just been put right on the point about CERT companies not offering alternative types of insulation. Since 2007 they have had to - which is great news. But, it sounds as if take up of sheeps wool insulation has been virtually non existent (too expensive), and only a tiny proportion have gone for shredded newspaper.

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Dan Jones

Dan JonesComment left on: 4 September 2011 at 7:01 pm

I agree with you about "green deal" and thanks for pointing out about the cert funding in the loft as was looking into that. 

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David Hunt

David Hunt from Comment left on: 2 September 2011 at 9:27 am

This is very important. As we have found from customer experience when the BIG companies get involved they don't have the expertise or infrastructure to work in this environment. I won't mention the list of names, but for both domestic and commercial clients the level of understanding, response, service and pricing are far from acceptable.

See, the 'big' companies don't want to do anything themselves, they want to front it and make the money (I'm not against people making a reasonable profit at all), but they just sub-contract the work. Tesco, and a number of other organisations have approached us, and others in the industry we know, asking us to sub-contract their installations. We don't sub-contract for anyone, but if we did we would have declined anyway, as all the good companies we know did. They offer poor product (what they can buy cheapest) and very poor rates for the sub-contract installation. You know what happens if you pay peanuts..... yes, Monkeys! People jumping into the sector willing to work on a day rate with no come back if they get it wrong. No expertise, no care, no passion. The customer suffers. That is one issue with the government kowtowing to the big boys.

The other is it takes away the opportunity for the good companies (and there are plenty of us among the cowboys) to grow and recruit, and train. We all know that the economy is fragile. The 'green' economy is the exception at present. We have recruited and trained over 30 people in the last 8 months, and will do that again in the coming year. Proper people, real jobs, real training, real passion, real expertise, real care.

If the government is serious about giving the public a real green deal and to boost the economy, and employment, they need to include all viable, professional, accredited businesses in the green deal, no matter what size. 

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