Making the most of Government initiatives
September marks the start of the UK Government’s six-month programme to build back better. Its £2 billion Green Homes Grant aims to encourage homeowners to adopt renewable energy and retrofit their properties to improve energy efficiency. Here, Martin Hurn, event director at net zero pioneer Futurebuild, speaks to Ian Rippin, CEO of Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) Certification and David Pierpoint, founder of The Retrofit Academy and Osmosis Consult to understand how to use Government funding effectively and how we can ensure lasting change in the retrofitting industry.
While the coronavirus pandemic brought many areas of industry, hospitality and everyday life to a halt, the countdown to meet net zero emissions by 2050 continued. In its annual report, the Committee on Climate Change identified that the Government had a chance to turn the pandemic into an opportunity to tackle climate change by focusing on a green recovery rather than just economic recovery. The Government found that the best way to tackle energy efficiency issues and achieve net zero targets is to invest in retrofitting and creating green jobs.
The £2 billion Green Homes Grant, for example, offers homeowners vouchers of up to £5,000 and low-income households £10,000 to upgrade their homes to improve energy efficiency. The Government have also pledged an additional £1 billion to retrofit public buildings such as schools and hospitals. These investments can reduce energy usage and bills for homeowners, create more sustainable jobs in construction and boost retrofitting and renewable energy sectors.
Using funding effectively
Energy efficiency retrofits are an urgent priority for the built environment industry post-COVID, so many have welcomed the initiatives. UK buildings, including homes, currently account for around 34 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. We should ensure that both consumers and businesses use this funding effectively to deliver high-quality retrofits.
“MCS strongly believes in the importance of maintaining high quality standards during the growth of industry,” commented Rippin. “To redeem this grant, consumers must use an MCS certified contractor who will deliver a quality installation and provide long lasting and effective renewable energy solutions.”
The Government grant money will also support growth in the retrofitting and renewable energy industries. There will be an increase of domestic and business investment and a rise in construction and heating companies diversifying into the environmental sectors. “With help from the grant, this year will see a 300 per cent increase of the retrofitting market” stated Pierpoint. “Construction companies can become Trust Mark approved by training their staff to become highly skilled in retrofitting. Companies can then to tap into this growing market in a way the promotes consumer confidence and maintains high quality retrofitting installation.”
“The Green Homes Grant will be a positive trigger in the renewable energy sector because the demand for heat pumps is expected to rise from 20,000 to 100,000 installations a year,” explained Rippin. “Firms in the plumbing and heating industry should use the Grant and their transferable skills to make a move into the renewables sector. Firms should diversify their businesses with the aim of maintaining certification after the six-month period has ended. Investing in training staff and maintaining high quality standards by gaining certification will allow the renewable sector to continue to thrive after the grant period has finished and for consumer confidence to be improved.”
Beyond green recovery
The Government has predicted that its programme can create hundreds and thousands of jobs, help the construction industry to recover rapidly and save households £7.5 billion a year on energy bills. This is a welcome first step, but the industry knows that more is required to achieve net zero targets. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department (BEIS), for example, predicts that the UK will only reach net zero by 2050 if the Government invests £70 billion per year.
“This prediction is equivalent to the Government running three and a half Olympic games every year between now and 2050,” explained Pierpoint. “The Green Homes Grant is just a small portion of this, but it will temporarily incentivise businesses to move into the retrofitting and renewable energy industries.”
While the current green initiatives will attract more people to the sector, achieving net zero targets requires a long-term investment in employment.
“The industry must carry out 20 million retrofits if we are to significantly reduce emissions,” commented Pierpoint. “To achieve this, we want to attract hundreds of thousands of people to join the industry in the next thirty years. In the next five years, the industry and Government should collaborate to attract more people into careers in the construction sectors through apprenticeships and investments. Investing in the next generation of apprentices now will ensure that there are tradespeople who can carry out high-quality work.”
Changing consumer behaviour is also key to a long-term investment in improving sustainability. “We think the most vital step the government needs to take in the next ten years, is educating the public about the different types of renewable energy. Human nature is to shy away from things we do not understand, like renewable energy sources,” explained Rippin. “To achieve net zero, consumer education is vital to increase consumer confidence and make people want to install more renewable energy solutions in their own homes.
“The industry will see a new wave of adopters who want environmentally friendly products, but do not know what to invest their money in to make the most valuable change,” commented Rippin. “The renewable energy industry must be able to adapt to the changing consumers by promoting the product’s reliability and ease of use in simple terms, rather than its environmental attributes.”
Some current retrofitting processes work well but are difficult to implement on a wider scale. So embracing innovation in manufacturing and installation is the key to achieving net zero targets by 2050.
Some companies are exploring faster retrofitting methods that take less time to install.
The Green Building Store, a low energy homes specialist, is exploring how to reduce time taken by creating an external ‘tea cosy’ insulation. The external insulation means the internal building does not need to be disturbed or replaced during fitting. Renewable retrofitting technology has been developing substantially over the last few years and now manufacturers should take actions to ensure faster methods are carried out industry wide.
Construction companies should also consider investing in innovative processes to ensure that they can meet demand. Retrofitting projects can be costly and time-consuming, decreasing the likelihood of projects being delivered on time and to an agreed budget. By moving assembly off-site, manufacturers can reduce production time while easily fixing potential defects and repairs, enhancing specification standards, build-quality and site safety. Off-site production can also help the consumer make the choice to invest because it reduces waste, time and costs.
The Government’s current investments in retrofitting for a green recovery will make a significant contribution to reducing emissions. However, the programme is only one step on the journey to achieving net zero targets. To make a real difference, the industry must invest in innovative products and processes, educate consumers about energy efficiency and encourage the Government to provide further, long-term support.
If you would like to find out about innovative products that will innovate retrofitting processes, find the information or register you interest in Futurebuild 2021 on our website https://www.futurebuild.co.uk.