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Carbon Coop leads the way to new models of retrofitting

Posted by Károly Gergely on 7 July 2017 at 11:30 am

Community Green Deal, a project by Manchester-based social enterprise, Carbon Coop has provided useful learning in three areas: technical, social and business-models.

A summary of the report can be found here and the full report here.

Our Community Green Deal project ran from 2013 to 2015 and centred on the retrofit of 12 member’s homes. It aimed to demonstrate that whole house retrofit could be delivered by a community energy intermediary organisation, with high levels of quality and at scale. Funded by the former Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the project sought to inform improvements to the Government’s (now ditched) Green Deal pay-as-you save model. It was targeted at owner occupier members and delivered by Carbon Co-op with technical assistance from retrofit specialists URBED. In contrast to Green Deal, householders benefitted from low cost, zero percent interest loans issued by Carbon Co-op and being repaid over 20 years. 

Whole house approach

In terms of improvements, varying combinations of between 15-20 measures were specified per home depending on the individual requirements of each house and the priorities of the householders. The following were widely installed: external wall insulation (mostly woodfibre - for vapour permeability and all round sustainability); internal wall insulation (often on front elevations), triple-glazed timber windows; new insulated doors; humidity controlled passive stack ventilation systems; loft insulation top up; floor insulation; air tightness works; high-efficiency solar photovoltaic panels and low flow hot water fittings. An important aspect of the project was to monitor the performance of the properties before and after retrofit, to gauge the level of success of the interventions and  to provide a detailed project analysis.

The project provided further evidence of the benefit of a ‘whole-house’ approach, increasing energy efficiency and maximising overall energy savings by considering the building as a whole. As well as energy use, it takes into account issues such as dampness and ventilation, guarding against unintended consequences and promoting improvements in occupant comfort and health. Carrying out the work in one hit minimises the number of household upheavals and reduces peripheral costs such as scaffolding and redecoration.

 

Results

Householders spent between £20,000 and £60,000 each (average around £40,000) on the retrofit, PV panels and associated fees - depending on the size of the house and the number of basic energy efficiency measures already in place.

The project evaluation demonstrated cuts of 40-60% or more can be made in domestic energy consumption and emissions. Gas use was very nearly halved, and for the majority of participants, PV panels now generate approximately as much electricity in net as the household uses. The project came very close to achieving our ambitious target of cutting emissions to 17kgCO2/m2.a – representing the ~80% emissions cut from 1990 levels needed to reach the nation’s 2050 emissions targets.

Before retrofit, households had energy bills ranging from around £500 to £2,000 a year. After retrofit, these fell decisively, with households saving from £200 (off an already small bill) up to £650 per year. Adding in the income from the Feed-in Tariff from solar generation, savings effectively rose to between £800 and £1,100 per year for these homes.

Many of the householders reported an improvement in comfort and indoor conditions post retrofit, including: homes are warmer, including first thing in the morning; they feel less damp and the air feels fresher; homes are less draughty; homes are cooler in summer when it’s hot.

 

A co-operative approach

The project also showcased the power of the co-operative approach. The retrofits were run as one single contract – with Carbon Coop acting as contractor – the whole project offered much higher level of trust than mainstream, commercial Green Deal alternatives. This overcame one of the key barriers to retrofit – consumer’s distrust of commercial contractors – while still providing high level of professional advice. Once the programme was up and running, belonging to a co-op offered householders opportunities for information sharing and support, both during the construction process, and afterwards with the day-to-day occupation of a low energy home.

Our message to Government is that grassroots organisations are often more successful than a top-down approach, as the failure of Green Deal has showed.

 

Future lessons

Retrofit is widely accepted to be a central tool to tackle both climate change and fuel poverty but progress in the UK is still drastically short of what is needed. Statutory schemes promoting energy efficiency in homes have tended only to support a limited range of measures, often with only one or two installed per home.

In contrast to Green Deal, we provided a 0% loan in a ‘pay-as-you-save’ model, which proved to be very popular with many participants naming it as one of their main reasons for starting their retrofit project.

For us, Community Green Deal was in many ways a success and also an incredibly important learning experience in terms of the barriers to whole house retrofit such as making affordable finance available. Most importantly, however, the project showed that combatting climate change it is not always a utopian dream- it can be a reality for those who dare to embark on this adventure! For those, who wish to do so with others there is Carbon Coop. 

 

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

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