Government must stop talking and go green

It’s a dilemma confronting households up and down the country – how do you make your home more energy efficient to offset the repeated warnings that fuel bills will only continue to rise in the future?

The government believed it had come up with the solution in Green Deal – a flagship eco-programme designed to cut carbon emissions, create jobs and reduce the nation’s fuel bills.

Sadly, Green Deal has failed to live up to expectation.

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Although it has had a UK launch twice – first in the autumn and again on January 28 this year – few people have heard of it. But the position is all the more frustrating in Scotland as the programme is not yet fully operational in this country, meaning that assessments are not able to take place at properties.

Details of when the Green Deal will hit Scotland are still vague and is leaving householders who want to make energy improvements to their home in a quandary.

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The position is perhaps more crippling for firms such as us. Direct Savings started off as a loft insulation business working with the big energy providers to help to reduce carbon emissions through the government’s national home insulation scheme. When that scheme closed at the end of 2012 it was to be replaced with the Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligations (ECO), which aims to provide energy efficiency upgrades for low income and hard-to-insulate homes through companies like Direct Savings

But with Green Deal/ECO now not expected to reach full-scale for another year at least and us having invested heavily in the relevant training and accreditations required to become a Green Deal approved assessor and installer, we are in a far from comfortable position.

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Indeed, the hiatus has put insulation industry overall in crisis, raising fears of company closures and massive job losses; and homeowners being left with freezing houses – at a time British Gas is recording a rise in profits.

Something is clearly wrong – but more so the position needs to change; and change quick.

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A major incentive for that change has to be the rising fears of people who cannot pay for energy.

Consumer Focus has estimated that six million households are experiencing fuel poverty, with that figure expected to rise to more than nine million by 2016, while Uswitch said that seven out of ten of us actually went without heating at some point during this winter.

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This clearly points to the need to apply much greater focus on efficiency rather than the strong emphasis that currently exists on renewables. Bluntly put, saving money is a significantly bigger driver for consumers than protecting the environment.

We have already spotted this trend and have invested in Infranomic Far-Infrared heating – an innovative heating system that through the Green Deal has potential to become commonplace in homes across the UK. Our trials and studies with bodies such as Historic Scotland and University of St Andrews support this. We are so confident that Infranomic heating can result in better heated homes and substantial energy savings that we are offering to pay two years’ worth of heating bills to homeowners who install the system and agree to monitor the results.

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Green Deal is a sound and sensible concept. It will enable homeowners to make energy improvements by taking out a long-term loan which is paid back via charges on the electricity bill. The so called “Golden Rule” of the scheme is that savings made on energy bills must be higher than the monthly loan repayments.

Some reports suggest that with a Green Deal-financed wall, floor and loft insulation with a biomass (wood) heating system, a property’s entire heating bills could be reduced to little or nothing.

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So, with so many people wanting to save money on their heating bills, my call to the government is let us in the sector help them by doing the work we have been set up to do.

We need the government to stop further delays and switch on the Green Deal software that will allow property assessments to start in Scotland.

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We also need the government to follow through on its promise to properly market the campaign to ensure awareness and acceptance grows.

And we need ministers to stand up and really champion Green Deal as their key driver to transform Britain’s homes.

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Let’s stop wasting what is getting scarcer and stop paying for energy that we don’t need.

• Ged Smith is managing director of Direct Savings