So what went wrong with the Green Homes Grant scheme?
The flagship government project to make the UK’s homes more energy efficient has collapsed – so what went wrong and what can we use here in Lewes in its place? Ann Link takes a look.
Last July, the government announced its £1.5 billion Green Homes Grant scheme to provide grants to help people insulate their homes and install green electric heating systems to replace gas. The highly-publicised scheme was also to include more generous grants for people in fuel poverty, which would be administered by local authorities.
It all sounded very promising. But, as we reported here in Transition Town Lewes News in October, cracks in the initiative soon began to appear. Builders found it difficult to register and people could not get in touch with the US contractor in charge of the scheme. By the time it was wound up in March 2021, there were more than 123,000 applications for the grant but only 28,000 vouchers had been issued and only 5,800 energy efficiency measures had been installed. The only remaining scheme is the grants for people in fuel poverty, run by local councils.
Companies lost money and some had to lay off workers. But it was not simply inefficiency that scuppered the scheme: it was brought down by a wholesale failure to plan that had begun long before the Green Homes Grant was even thought of [conceived?]. In particular, years of neglect around the issue of housing energy and a deliberate decision to delay higher standards for new builds have meant that the necessary skills to make homes energy efficient are scarce in the UK.
A report by the New Economics Foundation says that even to meet the government’s aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (which is generally considered too late to stop global warming breaching dangerous levels), the UK would need 36,000 trained retrofit co-ordinators. Currently there are 500. There is also a target to install 600,000 heat pumps in the UK by 2028. But there are only 950 accredited heat-pump installers in the country versus 96,000 fossil fuel boiler fitters.
So what are the alternatives?
Clearly, the government has to go back to the drawing board and review the resources needed to retrofit the country’s housing stock at pace. Locally, Lewes District Council could provide a model.
In its climate and environmental strategy, the council emphasises the importance of education and training of the next generation, and “upskilling of existing trades to enable the transition to a low carbon economy”. It is surveying existing council housing with a view to making it net zero carbon and plans to start on pilot schemes this year. The plan is to involve local contractors and foster the retraining and apprenticeships needed for home retrofitting as well as other ‘green’ sectors, like the Rampion Wind Farm.
The Railway Land Wildlife Trust has also produced a brilliant range of online films and resources for schools and colleges to inspire young people to pursue ‘green’ careers, from foresters to wind farm technicians to ethical creative agencies. See one of the films featured in this edition of TTL News.
Warmer Sussex also takes a pause
Government dysfunction has affected another useful source of help for householders locally, which TTL has regularly promoted. Warmer Sussex was started with the help of a grant from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to enable householders across Sussex to get advice and professional assistance for insulating their homes. Since it launched in November 2019 almost 400 homeowners have contacted the service.
Warmer Sussex’s big strength was the network of retrofit assessors it built up to provide expert advice. It also worked to engage local contractors in its service, providing them with both clients and access to training and advice. But because of the end of the Green Homes Grant scheme, there is no longer enough demand to make its business viable, even though it is a not-for-profit.
Expansion and promotion of the service has therefore been paused while Warmer Sussex looks for new funding. However, the website and the free planbuilder to help householders decide the best energy efficiency measures based on their budget and goals, are still available. Plus, contractors and retrofit professionals working on domestic refurbishment can still apply to become members of the Warmer Sussex network.
While Warmer Sussex is taking a pause, its parent organisation RetrofitWorks is still very active. A member-owned cooperative seeking to meet the urgent need to retrofit the UK’s current housing stock, it aims to bring local building contractors together with community groups and retrofit professionals seeking to help residents make their homes more energy efficient.
Currently it is working with Brighton and Hove community energy company BHESCo to improve the energy efficiency of homes in the village of Firle near to Lewes. For the last two years, they have been exploring designs for heat networks to power the village with locally sourced, community owned clean energy.
Retrofitworks has produced a great video about its approach to expanding retrofitting activity, which you can view here. Local contractors interested in teaming up with RetrofitWorks can contact it on 0330 123 1334.