In this article, we consider the implications of the government’s new strategy document and ask SBS Group Director, Gary Lawson, how it might shape the delivery of energy efficiency works in the coming years.
Q. What do you think are the most important messages to come out of the announcement?
A. I think that one is the sheer duration of the funding. Three years is enough time to encourage contractors and other stakeholders to really commit to this – to recruit and train people, and to re-engineer their businesses in ways that allow them to make serious progress.
We’ve seen a bit of stop-start approach in the past, with early and unexpected cancellations of both the Green Deal and the Green Homes Grant. However, if this funding materialises and stays the course, then it’s going to drive real change within the sector. An annual stimulus of around £1.45 billion would provide a solid foundation for growth and help to realise the sort of changes that everyone knows are essential.
Q. Any other important take-aways?
A. The continuing focus on fabric-first is good to see. It’s widely recognised that the most important first step towards energy efficiency is to hold on to whatever heat a system generates, so insulation retro-fit will continue to play an absolutely key role.
It’s also good to see the emphasis on prioritising the lower-performing properties and families who are suffering from fuel poverty. These are where some of the quickest and most important wins are to be made. A lot of commentators within the industry are saying that, at current prices, it’s still going to be a long time before air source heat pumps are as attractive on price as gas boilers, but insulation is a measure that has been proven to be cost effective. It offers real families real and immediate benefits.
Q. How will the funding affect the retrofit sector?
A. It can only be good news. There’s a mountain to climb in terms of bringing UK properties up to the required standard, but this gets everyone moving in the right direction. Perhaps most importantly, it should encourage investment in jobs and skills. The strategy paper says the government expects the funding to create 175,000 skilled, green jobs by 2030, and that could really help to get some big and important projects moving.
Q. Where do you think most of those jobs will be created? What sorts of businesses are going to be generating that added capacity?
A. In theory, it should be coming from the larger, more capable, properly accredited contractors. There’s been a big push towards accountability and quality assurance in recent years, and initiatives like the TrustMark are examples of that. Ever since the “Each Home Counts” report came out, there’s been a recognition that funding should be used to support quality-assured work, delivered to established standards.
So I’d hope that what we’ll see is greater demand for schemes delivered by PAS2030:2019 certificated installers; TrustMark-registered companies that can meet the requirements of PAS 2030:2019/2035:2019. It’s important that clients – whether they’re homeowners, landlords or social housing providers can have confidence in the work that their funding supports – so I really hope that this continues to drive the industry in the direction of greater quality.
Q. And what does ‘greater quality’ look like in practice?
A. Looking at our own experience, delivered through the Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme, Local Authority Delivery (LAD) Phases 1A, 1B and 2, the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator, ‘quality’ has been about value, efficiency and the effectiveness of the finished result.
Working with an experienced, quality-focused contractor can mean getting a full turnkey approach, where the provider’s looking for value engineering opportunities at every stage. That would include a full PAS 2035 retrofit assessment, support on design and coordination for each individual property as per PAS 2030 (2019), and the ability to install all relevant energy efficiency measures.
Quality comes in at even the earliest stages. On recent schemes, for example, we’ve helped clients to secure and manage funding. We’ve helped them to identify, target and manage property portfolios within areas that encompass both private and social housing, often working on a regional basis to deliver mixed tenure schemes.
Funding expertise is important; for clients, it can mean the difference between whether or not a project happens at all. A good, experienced contractor should be able to identify, combine and maximise funding for each property, through different funding schemes and through different funding providers, in order to achieve the best outcome on a household-by-household basis. This can yield a ‘blended’ mix of funding for multi-measure, whole house ‘deep’ retrofits.
Q. How well would you say clients understand new standards and funding initiatives? The landscape has changed pretty quickly…
A. It has, and there’s quite a broad spread of understanding. Some social housing providers are absolutely on the ball, but a lot of other clients are still coming to terms with how it all works and how it fits together.
One of the more misunderstood areas is PAS2030/PAS2035:2019 – the new ‘Retrofit Journey’. We’ve gone through a very steep learning curve ourselves, particularly when delivering some of our most recent projects. We delivered some of the first schemes to be completed under LAD1A and 1B. (Many others didn’t get off the ground at all due to misunderstandings about funding or the chosen installers being unable to deliver to standards.) We were also one of just a handful of contractors appointed to deliver a Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator project – effectively the pilot for the main £800 million fund. This has all given us an insight into how the new journey works, and how to maximise the impact of any funding.
Q. So, overall, are you optimistic about the new strategy and how the sector is likely to respond?
A. Yes, I think I am. It will be good for clients, of course; the funding will hep to ensure that some of the most badly-needed projects really happen, and that they benefit some of the people most in need.
Speaking on behalf of SBS, I think that it will be good for us, too. I think it will push business more in the direction of more experienced installers. We’ve had over 40 years in the industry, we’ve delivered under all the main funding streams, and we’ve delivered improvements to many thousands of properties UK-wide. Looking ahead, we’ll have access to a raft of future schemes like HUGS and ECO4, and as a TrustMark registered, PAS2030:2019 certified Installer, we’re ready and equipped to take on new schemes.