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Low cost, low carbon, high hopes?

National Infrastructure Assessment 2018Today the National Infrastructure Commission published the first-ever assessment of the United Kingdom’s economic infrastructure needs up to 2050.

More than measures

The Commission has identified the need for 21,000 improvements to lofts, walls and floors every week between now and 2035 in order to reduce heat demand by over 90%.  Why this fascination with measures? A measure doesn’t give a fixed energy or carbon saving. It’s 100% contextual. This approach encourages industry to forget there is an occupant and a lifestyle to nurture, missing the potential to deliver wider benefits, and undermining the potential for a market that encourages and enables sustainable homes and lifestyles.

Fixating on ‘measures’ might help to shape a delivery mechanism, but it’s wholeheartedly failed to excite customers who react to comfort, health or control. And if there are no customers, there is no industry. Get customers excited and they will pay for it themselves, if they can.

Make a plan

Parity Projects helps social landlords, registered providers and local authorities manage the energy performance of their housing stock, principally through our CROHM housing stock assessment software that helps design and deliver strategic retrofit programmes. Taking our asset management perspective, it is critical to develop a plan for all households and soon. This supports the building industry and householders as, even if single measures are the first activity or the whole house is renovated in one hit, the up-front assessment and design approach is identical. This approach is already in place for all customers of RetrofitWorks: industry collaborates, households know they are on a journey and we can judge whether targets are realistic or folly.

Learn from the last decade

Instead of a clear whole-house plan, we see not only the focus on limited measures but also siloed approaches for different sectors.

The Commission recommends that government should set a target for the rate of installations of energy efficiency measures in the building stock of 21,000 measures a week by 2020, maintained at this level until a decision on future heat infrastructure is taken. Policies to deliver this should include:

  • Allocating £3.8 billion between now and 2030 to deliver energy efficiency improvements in social housing.
  • Government continuing to trial innovative approaches for driving energy efficiency within the owner occupier market.
  • Government setting out, by the end of 2018, how regulations in the private rented sector will be tightened and enforced over time.

The Commission asks that we learn from failed initiatives, and if there is one thing we can say from the trials (and tribulations) of the last decade, all approaches are needed in all parts of the market: standards for quality and performance, an engaging offer, and a source of finance for those unable to pay. No-one buys a sofa because of 0% finance, let alone Green Deal rates, they need to want the sofa first.

Finally, the NIC specifies 21,000 measures per week ‘until a decision on future heat infrastructure is taken’. Whatever the decision we know the only way to deliver decarbonisation goals is less heat and more insulation; and the sooner we get that insulation in, the better for occupants and the environment.

Responsible retrofit at scale, start now.