The Chartered Architectural Technologist and the Green Deal

  • Building Design Expert
  • 3 years ago

I nearly became a green deal assessor, after all I already had the socks. The shorts would transfer from another kit, I just had to order the shirt with favourite name and number on. Problem was I couldn’t decide between long and short sleeve. Phew, that saved the day then, as well as a lot of time, money and ongoing angst in wondering which direction the government would take their initiative next. That was very much the question; had they taken the initiative, or something else?

I almost believed it was going to be the next big thing. Like many; insulation, green building and energy saving are my thing and the green deal was going to help me do it. Not then and not really now although the goal posts are shifting, but as a Chartered Architectural Technologist I shouldn’t and don’t need any new kit.

The main-stay of the Green Deal is the ‘Golden Rule’, which decrees that the repayments on any Green Deal loan cannot exceed the money saved as a result of using less energy due to the measures implemented. The question that always niggled is that if the government struggled to give away insulation under CERT and CESP it was going to take one heck of a ministerial salesman to actually sell it to us (for money) under the softly whispered rhetoric that accompanied the launch of the Green Deal. – After all the Green Deal is a business, and money is changing hands, and the consumer is paying for it, albeit via the back door. In return they get a more comfortable home, the Green Deal Providers, including the energy companies make money on the high interest rates involved, and the government gets to tell the rest of the world that they are successfully reducing the UK carbon output. An autocracy would take that package, tape down the lid and ship them out of the factory by the million. Except the great British public have had a good stretch, yawned, turned over and mumbled “What’s in it for me?”

To their credit the Government department responsible offered a “cash back” – supermarket style. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the DECC didn’t quite get as far as a BOGOF, but the cash back incentive sort of answered the question of ‘What’s in it for me?’

There’s always another ‘but’, and this one is that there is a finite pot of cash to give back. So c’mon, don’t be shy, come and get your Green Deal while the cash lasts, because then we’ll be back to the same old problem.

Just over a year ago in December 2013, a massive £450m was placed quietly on the table to see just who was hungry. Well, it was like a box of meat pies in a working men’s club. The money was snapped up, gone. As a result we had 4,000 Green Deals implemented.

At this juncture we must remember that the Green Deal was launched for real in January 2013. The government target for the first year was 10,000 implementations. After a year the whole scheme had barely broken 100, and after 2 yrs we are less than half way to a one year target, having spent a substantial amount of the poor, and getting poorer, tax payers money.

You may not be surprised to hear that the government slightly skew the stats they release. To begin with the most recent available are those from August / September 2014. They will tell you that 965,000 “measures” have been installed in 797,000 “properties” across the UK, in a combination of routes found through “Cash Back”, “Green Deal”, “ECO” and the “Green Deal Home Improvement Fund”. So that’s all the incarnations of the scheme since its launch then. What they are not so up front about is that the vast majority of these installed “measures” have been implemented under “ECO”. So then what exactly is ECO?

What exactly is ECO?

Yes, it’s another acronym; this one is the ‘Energy Company Obligation’. Part of the entire process is that the government have told the ‘Big Six’ energy companies that they must all contribute to a common pot that will help alleviate ‘Fuel Poverty’. Just to remind ourselves, fuel poverty is a status attributed to households that spend 10%, or more of their total net income on fuel. This pot amounts to £1.3 Billion annually, where the investment in Green Deal is just £244 Million. The money is deployed as ‘grants’, rather than the loans that make up the Green Deal; and, as ever, there are a number of qualifying hoops to jump through before you can your hands on this cash. In theory It will pay for anything that can be obtained under the Green Deal, but is intended to try and make ‘real difference’ measures such as external wall insulation, which otherwise may be beyond the financial reach of many households.

Ed Davey, the government minister responsible, most recently stated “This fund is a big success story for the Green Deal – helping thousands of people improve their homes so that they’re warmer, greener and cheaper to run.

The best way people can cut their energy bills, this winter and every winter, is to improve their homes so that they leak less heat and use less energy. That’s why we’ve increased the funding available for the Green Deal to help even more people start saving money sooner”.

So now they have re-badged the original “Cash-back” scheme to become a “Home Improvement Fund”. For me that has a much better ring to it. The Home Improvement Fund is somewhat more targeted, and gets less muddled with a reward for taking out some car insurance.

The original £450 million fund was released for use over years 2014 – 17. The latest tranche of £100 million released in December 2014 is in addition to that original sum. Of that figure only £30 million will be made available immediately (£24m for solid wall insulation and £6m for up to two measures from an approved Home Improvements list). The remaining money is expected to be made available on a quarterly basis through 2015.

Since it first hit our streets the Green Deal has undergone some major and minor tweaks. The original offering included forty five separate measures.  We are now down to around thirty (depending which web site you reference); only eleven of which qualify for ‘money-back’ from the GDHIF.

Here are the measures that were available now and then:

Green Deal Table

The comparison table demonstrates that the Green Deal landscape is forever changing (with the unswerving constant of ‘Green’) For example; prior to the December 2014 release of additional GDHI Funding – an external wall insulation grant would pay 75% of the final cost, up to a maximum of £6,000. This has now slipped to 67% and £4,000 – so proving that every government silver lining is neatly contained within its own cloud.

Even after contacting the Energy Saving Trust it still wasn’t clear what precisely the current Green Deal list was, or is comprised from. So please take the above table as guidance only.

As we all know the most bang for our bucks will be had by a green deal assessment with a ‘Fabric first’ slant. But the Green Deal is never going to approach the EnerPHit standard, and interestingly the MVHR option seems to have been removed from the current GD offering, so the auto-pilot of micro-management via efficient ventilation has effectively been removed, unless of course someone chooses to consciously reintroduce comprehensive managed ventilation to our newly insulated and hermetically sealed buildings.

As Chartered Architectural Technologists we were acutely aware of this scenario developing. Although we were invited along with other like minded industry professionals to contribute to the initial consultation; government did not take cognisance of the considerable experience offered; and subsequently we, along with the construction industry in general were not invited to be part of this gravy train. As such we all stand in the sidings while unventilated lofts are piled high with insulation; rubble filled cavities are helped further on their way by the installation of cavity wall insulation, and even if the roof is ventilated and the external wall insulation installed as a seamless envelope the chances of anyone considering the inevitable cold bridge at the eaves junction are anecdotally slim to none.

The Green Deal began life as a government sponsored mechanism to help the UK meet our 2050 carbon reduction obligations. The government made it quite clear at the outset that it would not be marketing the scheme, and would leave this to industry. It appears that the industry players all took a step backwards leaving nobody to take the lead – Result: the status quo.

First and foremost the Green Deal owes its very existence to its function as a business. Fortunately it’s development plan never relied upon it achieving world domination. For its funders (which include some big retailers such as Tesco, M&S and B&Q as well as the big energy companies) it is very much a side line; the aim of which is to lend money to put the various green deal measures in place, with a handsome profit made on the repayments made through the ‘Golden Rule’ system against a more than profitable interest rate on the original loan.

The Golden Rule therefore safeguards not only the consumer, but also the GD Provider; for whilst the householder may have a wish list of items for their own GD programme, if the GD assessment determines that they do not stack up for repayment under the golden rule then it will go no further unless funded in part or whole by that householder. So whilst they may go into the Green Deal looking for some new windows and a boiler, they may conceivably come out the other side with a voucher for loft insulation.

The foregoing is unfortunate as the skill set of a Chartered Architectural Technologist undeniably more than equips us to deal with the future now.

For further reading on the Green Deal:

Green Deal Home Improvement Fund
Green Deal Home Improvement Fund – by Money Saving Expert
Green Deal Energy saving measures and overview
The role of the Green Deal Assessor
The Green Deal Explained