Building foundations for a more energy efficient future

// the building envelope

Barrie Stanley, energy efficiency manager at Wetherby Building Systems, discusses the Government’s response to the ‘ECO: Help to Heat Consultation’

The changes the government has made in its response to the ‘ECO: Help to Heat Consultation’, published in January, are positive steps, however Wetherby Building Systems is urging the government to ensure this is just the beginning. The next phase of ECO should be seen as a strong foundation on which to build future energy efficiency schemes that put tackling fuel poverty at the very core.

It is positive to see that the government has listened to the calls from the industry to make the new ECO funding period a more robust scheme that genuinely helps those that need it most. It is widely acknowledged that insulating solid wall properties is the most effective way to improve the energy performance of these homes. By ensuring the focus is on insulation for the next 18 months, ECO will be able to deliver the most effective energy efficiency savings.
The 25% increase in the minimum number of SWI installs, to 32,000 over the 18 month period, is a huge win for the industry and testament to the unfaltering lobbying from manufacturers, suppliers and trade associations operating in the sector. The supply chain serving the SWI industry has been in turmoil since the cuts to the ECO scheme, with many companies being forced to diversify and offer other services to cover the loss in business from abolished ECO schemes.
Ensuring more fuel poor households are eligible for funding by increasing the number of qualifying households to 4.7m is a very positive step, however it is not enough. There are still some 8 million solid wall properties in the UK, with half of all families living in fuel poverty living in solid wall properties, which could greatly benefit from SWI.
Increasing the minimum number of SWI installs, along with extending the scheme to the end of September 2018, has provided a level of security and stability for the industry, which can now plan accordingly. However, there is some nervousness among the industry regarding what will happen after this extended ECO period ends.
The government needs to put firm plans in place for a new energy efficiency scheme that builds on the successes of ECO but truly addresses the issue of improving the energy efficiency of the UKs housing stock. There are some 2.9m households in England classes as being in fuel poverty and the only way to bring these families out of fuel poverty is to ensure there energy bills are permanently reduced through a more energy efficient home. 
It may be time for the government to have a re-think of its energy efficiency policy if it does truly want to address the fuel poverty crisis in the UK. Instead of looking for ways to improve and extend current schemes, the government needs to invest significantly in a scheme that focuses on vulnerable households, working with local authorities and housing associations to improve the energy efficiency of the country’s aging housing stock.

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