The Green Deal needs the right investment
The Government is already working out how to extend the Green Deal into the non-domestic building sector, but we must get the basics right first, says Bob Towse
The Green Deal has the potential to be the biggest programme in UK history for improving the energy efficiency of both domestic and non-domestic buildings. However, there are a number of fundamental problems to be overcome first.
Not least is the fact that not a single UK engineer currently meets the competence criteria for carrying out Green Deal work. Every single installer will have to take further training in order to meet the competences required. There are also very few courses available to train them and there is a basic problem with the way the residential projects are being set up regarding the communication between the funding providers and the installers that could create real problems for consumers.
The industry is behind the initiative, in principle, but a lot of firms are waiting to see how things pan out for obvious reasons.
The difficulty is that the competence criteria have been set in line with brand new national qualifications. As a result, everybody measured against the requirements of PAS 2030 - the 'publicly available specification' for existing buildings, which provides the quality standards to which all Green Deal funded measures must be installed - will need to take further training before they can be approved.
The PAS covers boilers, controls, insulation, warm air heating systems, flue gas recovery systems, lighting, heat pumps, solar thermal and PV, biomass boilers, CHP and wind. It sets out the installation processes, the management of those processes and the quality of the service provided to the customer before, during and after the installation. This is to ensure that installations meet customer expectations and achieve the 'Golden Rule' that the energy savings cover the cost of repaying the Green Deal loan.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) depends on the PAS to guarantee the standards required by the Green Deal Code of Practice and as a good practice benchmark for installations.
The irony is that there will be plenty of money available to fund the scheme because large private organisations have already committed to it - Marks & Spencer; B&Q and the like. The Government has also just announced that a £7m loan will be made to the Green Deal Finance Company to get things moving and there will be ongoing support from the UK Infrastructures fund that has been established to underpin £40bn of public sector work.
Getting into difficulties
However, there is no point having lots of money, but a very narrow supply chain - if any supply chain at all - capable of delivering the projects.
Also, even if the criteria issue gets sorted out, a contractor could still get into difficulties with the practical application of a Green Deal project. For example, if he comes across a problem- say, for example, asbestos or the boiler needs to be re-sited because of a previously hidden problem with a wall - he will have to go back to the Green Deal provider to approve the changes.
This means a delay and could result in the householder being without heating or water until the person or organisation providing the funds has re-assessed the application. This has come about because the system has been set up to protect the funding providers - not the consumer.
The Government's intentions are good, but this betrays their lack of understanding about how building engineering projects progress. British Standards is already working on the extension of PAS 2030 to make it applicable in non-domestic buildings and that is really positive. However, we must be ready to walk before we can run, which means getting the fundamentals right now so any future extension of the scheme has a chance.
Another opportunity to ease the path of the Green Deal may be missed if the Government isn't careful. Consequential improvements were part of the public consultation for the revised Part L of the Building Regulations. The principle is that the building owner is compelled to spend a further 10 per cent of the value of any refurbishment project on improving the energy efficiency of the whole building. With Green Deal funding now available, here was an opportunity to impose the rule, but without any cost to homeowners.
By making it a legislative requirement, the Government could have created a measure of compulsion, but Green Deal funding would have been used to pay for the improvements and consumers would have enjoyed the benefits of reduced fuel bills as well. However, the Daily Mail dubbed it a 'conservatory tax' and so, despite widespread support during the consultation process - including from several government departments, it seems the Chancellor has intervened and the proposal is not to be implemented.
So we have a whole list of concerns - but what about solutions? The flaws in the scheme will become increasingly apparent once it gets up and running because the uptake will be slow. There will, surely, have to be some sort of 'staging' process to allow already competent engineers to carry out the work before they complete further training. Expert bodies, like the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES), will then be in a position to advise the Government on how to improve the scheme and give it long-term resilience.
In the meantime, it is important for the industry to get behind the scheme as it has huge potential. It might get off to a sluggish start, but we are working hard to ensure government officials recognise our legitimate concerns and work with us so the Green Deal can walk before it has to run.
// The author is head of technical and safety at the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) //
8 November 2012