With the UK government withdrawing funding for its flagship energy efficiency scheme for homes, is it abandoning its green promises?

On 23 July, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd announced an end to the Green Deal, the latest of a series of decisions affecting low-carbon policy. These included removing the requirement for all new homes to become zero carbon from 2016 and stopping and reducing subsidies for onshore wind and solar respectively.

The changes have shocked many in the green community, and some see it as proof of the government’s intention to line the pockets of the big six energy companies rather than the lofts of Britain’s housing stock — notoriously among the least energy-efficient in Europe.

The Green Deal was launched in 2013 to cut carbon emissions from homes and reduce energy bills by providing loans to help home-owners boost energy efficiency. Improvements such as insulation, double-glazing and solar panels were supported.

Two years later it’s clear that the Green Deal failed to deliver. According to the government’s own report, published in July, around 15,600 Green Deal plans had been issued by June 2015, a figure which DECC described as a ‘low take-up’. The scheme also attracted criticism for being too complex, making loans to home-improvers at a high interest rate and attracting rogue companies posing as authorised providers.

Greenpeace UK’s head of energy, Daisy Sands, said, "The Green Deal was far from being a success, but coming right after the scrapping of the zero-carbon homes target, this latest move suggests ministers are giving up on efficiency.”

The stop-start policy approach is likely to hit minor players in the energy efficiency industry hard, as they may struggle to adapt quickly to the market changes. John Alker, director of policy and communications at the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), says, “Small contractors delivering solid wall insulation are likely to bear the brunt of these changes. These firms, which typically have larger workforces due the labour-intensive nature of installing this measure, are likely to be forced to lay off workers.” With no Green Deal replacement in the pipeline and Parliament in recess until 7 September, times look tough indeed for insulation players.

Cameron risks credibility on climate

Nonetheless the government is optimistic about the decision. Announcing the end to the Green Deal, Rudd promised, "Together we can achieve this government's ambition to make homes warmer and drive down bills for one million more homes by 2020 — and do so at the best value for money for taxpayers."

New deal

The government has commissioned an independent review into energy efficiency and will work with the building industry and consumer groups on a new value-for-money approach.

UKGBC’s Alker supports engagement, but would like to see the net cast wider. He says, “A successful energy efficiency programme requires partnership between all stakeholders—industry, government (national and local), third sector and community groups and, of course, households.”

Alker remains sceptical over recent announcements, saying, “We shouldn't be in much doubt—this is not a very ambitious pledge and says nothing about the extent of measures delivered in any of these one million homes.”

A well-thought-through framework could be an opportunity for the government to walk the talk on reducing emissions and bills, tackling fuel poverty and improving housing stock. But until Rudd’s next announcement there is little hint as to how energy policy will shape up. Along with fluctuating oil and gas prices, this makes life uncertain for the green building sector.

On the political level, the end of the Green Deal challenges prime minister David Cameron’s claim to lead the “greenest government ever”, especially as the Department of Energy and Climate Change is expected to be proportionally one of the hardest hit by chancellor George Osborne’s austerity drive.

Unless he can pull a low-carbon rabbit out of the energy efficiency policy hat, Cameron’s credibility may well be damaged when it comes to negotiating for positive action on climate change at Paris in December 2015. 

climate change  low-carbon  emissions  Carbon emissions  housing  construction  clean energy 

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