RIP ECO

Obscure reference: this one’s still there…

Obscure reference: this one’s still there…

There’s a major catastrophe under way and, as far as I can see, with a very few honourable exceptions, no-one’s reporting on it, but it’s a catastrophe nevertheless. The hon. exceptions are the estimable Inside Housing and the Guardian (only they seem to have moved on).

The catastrophe I’m talking about is that the whole programme of solid wall insulation as we know it, which is supposed to be advancing via the Energy Companies Obligation, has almost completely disappeared before our eyes.  And it’s a catastrophe for the simple reason that Britain has some of the least energy efficient housing in Europe. So much so that if we do not seriously get to grips with our collective home energy efficiency now, then we severely lessen any chance we might have to reduce overall carbon emissions to anything like acceptable target levels by the 2030s. And of course it isn’t just me saying that;  the Committee on Climate Change is clear that to meet the terms of the third carbon budget (early 2020s) we need to have externally clad (or otherwise insulated) something like 2.2 million homes. By the fourth budget (assuming the government doesn’t abrogate its commitment to it) some 3.5 million homes will need to have been treated.  Last year, as DECC records, about 16000 such homes were clad, making it only a matter of …ooh…230 years or so before the 2020s target is reached.

And over the past few weeks it’s become apparent that any hopes that we might have had of some progress, any progress, being made in that fundamental task are being dashed. This is because energy companies are pulling out of what could have been the white hope of ECO; the local area-based schemes that had been developed in good faith by local housing associations and local authorities across the Country.

Because ECO placed an obligation with a challenging level of carbon reduction on energy companies up to 2015, some solid –looking partnerships had developed between social landlords, local authorities, energy companies and others. The aim of such partnerships was to discharge parts of those obligations through the treatment of thousands of solid wall and hard to treat properties using an area based approach.  In Southampton a deal to begin such a programme was at an advanced stage; deals had been struck, partners agreed, programmes designed at no little cost to the local authority, and residents had been informed that cladding and a potential considerable reduction in their bills was soon to arrive.

But now as a result of the lengthening of the ECO’s ‘commitment’ and the emptying of the CERO part of the scheme to fund easier to achieve treatments, e.g. loft and cavity foam measures (which should have been the province of the Green Deal), virtually no area based schemes, as far as I can see, are now standing. The energy companies, being no longer obliged to work at the speed or to the extent that they previously were, are simply pulling the plug on their contributions.  Technically, the ECO extension until 2017 means that companies will now be obliged to only insulate around 100,000 homes by 2017, instead of the target of about 180,000 by 2015. Because of the way the ECO obligation is calculated, energy companies can now plump for cheaper measures in order to discharge their obligation.  Bearing this in mind, I would be most surprised now if anything like that number of properties are actually insulated.

It might be worth reminding ourselves of what was put forward as a real prospectus for ECO less than two years ago. Then the government said:

One of the major challenges for the ECO and Green Deal is the changing nature of the types of measures that need to be delivered. CERT, by focusing on delivering low-cost measures, has been very successful at installing simple loft and cavity wall insulation. From 2012 Green Deal finance will offer a route to deliver the remaining low cost loft and cavity wall opportunities at no upfront cost and without need for subsidy. However to meet our carbon budgets cost effectively, we will need to go far beyond just lofts and cavity walls, and move towards the next most cost effective measures.

However, some 7 million of the most difficult to treat homes require some form of solid wall insulation. The Committee on Climate Change recommended in their 2009 Report, ‘Meeting Carbon Budgets – the need for a step change’1that 2.3million solid wall homes will need to have taken up solid wall insulation by 2022 in order for the UK to be on track to achieve carbon budgets. ECO support for these properties will help drive this market, and the supply chain to fulfil it, enabling us to unlock the resulting carbon savings more cost effectively.

Now the Green Deal is on life support and ECO is in ruins. Quite a catastrophe really.

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5 thoughts on “RIP ECO

  1. The difficulty that I see on a daily basis is that GD is perceived as a loan, and even if you explain that a reduction on your energy bills, will repay the GD for that period of the loan, and the funding can come from any source, GD is still regarded as a con.
    ECO measures, the associated contribution, and their qualifying benefit criteria is so restrictive that people just give up.
    Although the scheme cannot be Goverment funded through general taxation, there are weapons available to increase uptake.
    1. A house cannot be sold unless a bench mark C rating is achieved.
    2. Local housing associations should publish which properties fail a basic EPC.
    3. Private Landlords should be fined if a house is not insulated to SAP 2005.
    4. ECO should be placed under the control of Local Authority housing.
    5. GD should be promoted at a fixed interest rate, say 3%.

    Over and above this it should be the main individual concern of everyone who pays an energy bill to take measures to reduce their KW/h output, and negotiate with energy suppliers the price of those units. Take action yourself and save £100 simply by getting tough.
    James Penders.

  2. The move to exterior insulation is a mistake!
    The problem is that heat always moves to cold.
    Placing the insulation on the exterior of a building looses most of its benefits.
    The heat from the home, still moves into the walls, fine, not so much of it actually passes through the wall to the sky outside, but a considerable amount moves into the wall and then down into the ground and up into the sky by conduction.
    Heat moving into a solid doesn’t just move through it in a straight line, it moves in all directions.

    Has the proposal been based entirely on convenience, making it cheaper and easier for the installers? Perhaps less disruption for the household? Has the overall saving in energy been pushed to one side, to pander to the power companies?

  3. I am still struggling to get a true picture of the Government’s capitulation to the utilities (in a failed effort to counter Milliband’s “price freeze” promise). The £50 saving “won” is not an annual saving and currently it will only affect Variable Rate Tariffs…
    I had understood that ECO was cut by around 33% per year, but this budget level was extended for a further 2 years. Arguably this would increase the spend overall, albeit at a lower annual rate.
    The expensive measures (such as External Wall Insulation) will be most hit as is shown by the cries of woe from those affected by cancelled EWI schemes.
    So much for the expected extra 60,000 green jobs and the bizarre suggestion that Green Deal/Eco would see the “biggest burst of construction acitivy since the Second World War”.
    The 1.6 uplift on all work done by March 31st was a wonderful example of this lot (our illustrious Coalition Government) being completely blind-sided by the utilities. The latter hardly needed this incentive; 4 out of the 6 big suppliers were nearly there anyway! All this means is that their targets are reduced unnecessarily and even less homes will be improved. A great way to counter the cost of living problem for the fuel poor….
    On a technical point cavity wall insulation with foam pretty well expired in the 1980s. Most installations now are with mineral fibre materials, or with expanded polystyrene beads.
    Don’t you love living under The Greenest Government Ever.

  4. We work in an industry which provides a steady stream of work for installers under ECO, right across the UK. Our core business was being a ‘middle man’ in essence, users could check what grants they may qualify for and have local companies on our network contact them to arrange the necessary works.

    However, over recent months, in particular the start of January, we’ve had Green Deal Installers dropping off our network like flies. Simply put, there is no funding available. We’ve got huge demand from the public, but there is just no installers out there with the necessary funding…. and, whatever funding there is, is being paid out at an unserviceable rate.

    CSCO – Well, there just isn’t enough work out there. Drizzles of CSCO Cavity Wall insulation/Loft insulation comes through, but it’s just been hit too hard.

    CERO – As mentioned above, EWI cuts have effected the rates in which we working at. There are hardly any ‘true’ three storey buildings and narrow cavities are hard to find, never mind hard to treat.

    HHCRO – My body shudders with the sound of that word. It has been, to put it nicely, ambushed. The demand for replacement boilers is so high, and the HHCRO funding (whatever is left of it) is being paid out to installers as little as 7p! The result, companies will be trying to pull down the ratings on EPC’s in order to get the carbon score higher. So, we’ve now got a shed load of inaccurate EPC’s on the register to deal with.

    As we approach the new financial year, it will be interesting to see what the Gov does to improve this sector. Boiler installers under ECO are shutting up shop left, right and centre. There needs to be a plan, and they need to implement it soon.

    What a farce.

    For those interested in our sites, as a token;
    http://www.boilergrants.org.uk
    http://www.insulation-grants.org.uk

    We’re looking in to developing more networks now due to the downfall in ECO, focussing mainly on renewables. Solar, heat pumps etc.

    Let’s keep our heads high, and try to think positive about what lies ahead for the Green Industry.

    Sam

  5. It’s not even just the demise of ECO, Alan. There is a cultural hegemony which opposes EWI. The vast majority of pre WWII terraces, semis and detached are solid wall with red bricks, or some other colour (e.g. Cambridge). We know, to have a chance of the housing sector making a reasonable contribution to 2050 C02 targets, we have to tackle these. We also know deep retrofits work, and a key part of this is expensive EWI.

    But attached to these houses is a culturally imposed ‘heritage’ value. As if we need to preserve the whole country in aspic, like one huge City of Bath – Oh England founder of the Industrial Revolution, the modern age, houses for workers.

    For example this from Stoke CC:

    It (EWI) also contains guidance on the position of the Local Planning Authority in terms of striking the right balance between protecting heritage of the City whilst delivering improved energy efficiency for the existing housing stock.

    and…

    the Local Planning Authority will have to strike a balance on the affect that EWI would have on the character of the houses, the wider streetscene and the heritage character of Stoke-on-Trent as the majority of EWI proposals are for terraced properties, many of which have heritage architectural features

    Similar statements are to be found from many LPDs. The requirement to use similar materials, and in some cases to use Internal insulation to preserve heritage features is a massive burden for the industry, and householders. As a nation we are obsessed with conformity and homogeneity. Walk down German streets, and see different houses; in England see rows of the same terraces, bungalows, semis and the like. Until we demand a greater role for function over form (and in this case the function is to preserve the planet’s ecosystem, deliver warmer healthier homes and take people out of fuel poverty and improve energy resilience and security), instead of someone else’s definition of heritage or aesthetic we will not win the revolution which will change our housing stock from one of the worst in Europe to something we deserve.

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