Policies for greening Britain’s homes

Houses last for decades, even centuries. The gas and electricity we use to heat, light and power our homes accounts for nearly a quarter of the UK’s climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. So if we want to cut carbon, it’s not enough just to make new homes low or zero carbon. We have to retrofit the existing stock of heat-leaking homes, because most of them will still be with us by 2050. They need to become much more energy efficient and get more of their energy from clean, renewable sources.

There’s also fuel poverty. The UK is a wealthy country but far too many people on low incomes, many elderly, struggle to afford their energy bills and keep warm in winter. Making their homes waste far less heat is a large part of the answer.

Over the years, Bioregional has run several partnership projects to retrofit existing homes with energy saving measures and renewable energy supplies. We want to use the lessons learnt to change national policy so that the entire existing stock of homes can be retrofitted over the next two decades, slashing carbon emissions and fuel poverty.

Two of these projects related to the Government-backed Green Deal, a loan scheme launched in 2013 which allows people to pay off the cost of a major energy saving package of measures through an extra charge on their electricity bill. The fundamental idea is that the savings in electricity and gas bills following a Green Deal retrofit more than outweigh the loan repayments.

In 2010/11 Bioregional, Sutton Council and B&Q were commissioned by Government to trial the Green Deal. Home owners were given interest-free loans to make energy saving improvements to their property and could also benefit from a 40% grant towards the cost. Nearly 70 households took part and the average capital spending was around £13,000 each.

In 2013 Bioregional joined with Cherwell District Council to run a Green Deal promotion scheme in Bicester, Oxfordshire funded by the Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). This delivered 100 free Green Deal appraisals – energy surveys which are the essential first step in choosing a Green Deal package. We went on to install energy saving measures in 14 homes and two small businesses including enhanced insulation, new gas-fired boilers, LED lighting and solar energy.

Using this experience, we identified major shortcomings in the Green Deal which were obstacles to its success. UK-wide uptake through 2013 and 2014 was very low compared to earlier government expectations, and in 2015 the Government withdrew its support.

Working with the Association for the Conservation of Energy (now the Association for Decentralised Energy), we wrote a report which analysed these problems in depth and proposed feasible solutions. We shared the findings of our Retrofitting the Green Deal report with Government and leading energy efficiency stakeholders.

The need for a massive home energy retrofit programme remains as strong as ever – we support the campaign for this to be a national infrastructure priority. Millions of householders could benefit from installing energy saving measures which would pay back the upfront cost within a decade through cuts in their energy consumption and their energy bills. They just need the right incentives and support to trigger that investment.

In 2015 Government commissioned us to write a report, What Works, examining what policies work in encouraging households to adopt energy saving measures, products and services. We researched and wrote it with experts from the Universities of the West of England and Birmingham.