It’s spring: the SAP rises…

As Green Deal comes in, other measures to deal with the energy efficiency of our housing stock go out. Not news really: we know that the days of CERT, CESP and warm front are numbered and that they will be gone as programmes, or in the very last stages of running down, when Green Deal comes in. At that point, there will be no publicly funded energy efficiency programmes. The reliance on Green Deal and the Energy Companies Obligation to tick all the boxes of energy efficiency in homes, mount a concerted attack on fuel poverty through home energy uprating and achieve the carbon emissions reductions pencilled in for the private sector in carbon reduction plans, will be almost absolute.

Green Deal will, we are told, be a “game changer”: so what will it be likely to achieve in the face of these multiple challenges?  What will count as a success for such an ambitious programme?

Right now it is fair to say that no-one knows.  There are no targets or indicative success measures either on the face of the Energy bill as it currently stands, or in any pronouncements from Government about the framework within which Green Deal will sit.  A coalition of NGOs involved in climate change and energy efficiency issues has produced a joint statement on the need for ambition on energy efficiency in the energy Bill’ which calls for the adoption of a ‘warm homes’ amendment to the Bill to put targets into Green Deal ‘sufficient to meet the ambition of the Climate Change Act’, and a version of the amendment surfaced during the passage of the Bill through the Lords. It remains to be seen whether such an amendment is put down in the Commons – but we certainly need to be clearer, far clearer about what will constitute success or failure for Green Deal.

As it happens, however, some useful starting line figures have emerged in the last month in the shape of the English Household Survey headline report – part of the early analysis of the latest large scale house condition survey (here).  The report makes interesting reading for the amount of ‘game’ the Green Deal will have to ‘change’: for example, some 30% of all homes (some 6.7 million) failed to meet the decent homes standard last year, and not surprisingly, people in fuel poverty were substantially over-represented in such homes.

But the big, basic challenge for Green Deal comes in the form of cavity wall and loft insulation: almost half local authority or housing association homes have cavity wall insulation and almost a third loft insulation, more than double that in the private rented sector (18% cavity wall insulation, 14% loft). Private homes come a little way behind local authority figures.

Overall, however, the SAP rating (Standard Assessment Procedure for measuring the energy efficiency of a home) in English homes has gone up in recent years, suggesting that measures now being phased out may have had more of an impact than some suggest.  In the thirteen years since 1996, SAP averages have increased by 13 points – from 42 to 53, with a significant increase in ratings over the last five years of the period – one-and-a-half times as fast as in the first five years of the period. Social housing once again leads with average SAP ratings in 2009 of over 61.

But bearing in mind that to make a decent dent in emissions from homes and come anywhere near reaching fuel poverty eradication targets SAP ratings will  have to average about 70 by the end of the decade (see the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group reports here) there’s clearly a long way to go from this benchmark. Putting it bluntly, if the average SAP ratings in English homes go up over the next ten years by less than in the past ten years, then Green Deal will have been an abject failure. An absolute minimum benchmark for success, I would have thought, would be to at least equal the best increase in SAP in a year (2009) up to 2020.  That makes an average SAP rating in English homes of 70 (Energy Performance Certificate band C) by 2020, and even then the annual increase is slightly less than that for 2009: some leeway allowed. How’s that for a target? It would be good to have something like that benchmarked and put in the Bill, I think. At least we would be clear about just how many privately rented and owner-occupied homes we have to tackle to get there.

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