News analysis with BESA

Stop-start approach could undermine green goals

The decision to axe the Green Home Grant scheme is short sighted and will make the building services industry very suspicious about any future government energy efficiency initiatives, according to BESA


he scheme, which launched amid much fanfare last year, has been dropped having achieved just 10% of its target to transform the energy

performance of 600,000 homes. No sooner had business minister Anne-Marie

Trevelyan told parliament that only £320m of the original £2bn would now be made available for the voucher scheme – it was unceremoniously dropped completely with the remaining cash reallocated to a home insulation programme run by local authorities for lower income households.

The Government says consumers were reluctant to apply for the grants because they did not want contractors coming into their homes during the pandemic. However, many householders reported waiting months for their applications to be approved and hundreds of small firms had payments due through the fund so severely delayed that some went out of business. “This is all too reminiscent of the ill-fated Green

Deal,” said BESA chief executive David Frise. “Many companies got their fingers burned with that scheme and organisations like ours spent considerable time and effort trying to persuade members to get behind this latest initiative. We feel badly let down. “To achieve long-term, low carbon aims the

country needs to have long-term, well managed initiatives. This stop-start approach will have the opposite effect by turning off both the industry and consumers.”


BESA also said it was disappointed that the Chancellor did not take the opportunity in his recent Budget to reduce VAT on energy saving measures

to support building retrofits. This means he ignored a recommendation from the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which also urged him to reallocate the unspent grant funding to long-term decarbonisation plans. “Making 19 million homes ready for net zero

Britain by 2050 is an enormous challenge that the Government appears to have not yet grasped,” said EAC chairman Philip Dunne MP. “In the next 29 years, the Government must improve energy efficiency upgrades and roll out low carbon heating measures… starting now. A much better understanding of cost, pace, scale and feasibility of skills development is desperately needed.” Frise added that pump priming such a huge market

with public funds also made “good business sense as it creates and preserves jobs and gives companies confidence to invest in the future”. However, the Government does have a £1bn

decarbonisation strategy to improve the performance of industrial and commercial buildings. The industry will now be watching closely to make sure that is properly supported. Schools, hospitals and other public buildings are at

the heart of the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which aims to reduce carbon emissions from buildings by two thirds in 15 years. The strategy has already allocated almost £1bn to 429 retrofit projects across England and Wales and is promoting the uptake of low carbon solutions like heat pumps, solar power, and insulation. “The Government deserves great credit for putting such an impressive programme together and giving it significant financial support,” said Emma Brooks, chair of the BESA Energy Efficiency in Buildings group,

which is a joint venture with the Energy Services and Technology Association (ESTA). “However, while there are some very exciting

plans for technology developments in the plan, we strongly believe that we must go back to the basics of energy efficiency first. There is still plenty of low hanging fruit to be plucked in the industrial and commercial building sector from making relatively low-cost improvements to the ‘real life’ energy performance of installed systems. “If we can focus on those first that will give the programme a solid basis on which to build,” she added. Her group has highlighted a number of gaps in

government policy and support adding there was a danger that the excitement around alternative sources of power like renewables and plans to use hydrogen in the gas grid was pushing energy efficiency measures to the back of queue. This, and the greater attention paid to the residential sector, was making commercial buildings a “missed opportunity”.


“Energy efficiency is just as important as low carbon sources of power in the battle to narrow the country’s looming grid capacity gap,” said Brooks. “It is understandable that renewable power and emerging technologies are seen as more ‘sexy’, but without huge improvements in the energy efficiency of commercial buildings, in particular, the country will not achieve its net zero carbon goals.” She said the Government had seemed to have a clearer route for the residential sector, but the failure of the green home scheme raised questions about its commitment to energy saving across the built environment.

10 April 2021

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