Green Homes Grants: the good news and the challenges ahead

rishi

When I heard the Chancellor announce a new Green Homes Grant scheme this week my ears pricked up. Over the last 12 years I’ve done research and strategy work, alongside the talented team at Behaviour Change, on how to get people to make their homes more energy efficient. Homes contribute about 40% to the UK’s carbon emissions and we cannot meet our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 without widespread improvements to how they are insulated and heated. Yet despite much talk, and a Government ‘Green Deal scheme’ available from 2013-15, little has changed.

So what’s different this time? The good news is that the new scheme involves grants: homeowners and landlords can apply for ‘vouchers’ of up to £5,000 (£10,000 for low income households) to fund up to 2/3 of the cost of energy-saving home improvements. This is in contrast to the previous Green Deal scheme, which required households to take out a form of a long-term loan to fund improvements, with repayments made via their electricity bill, in line with the amount they should save in energy costs. A grant is a much simpler and more palatable proposition.

Another big difference is that awareness and consideration could be much higher and more widespread this time. Many households are currently alert to the different forms of Government financial support that might be relevant to them personally, and seem more willing to trust what is available and apply quickly. Again this is in stark contrast to the Green Deal, which received almost no centralised marketing and was little known and not well trusted.

But will this scheme get enough impactful and sustained communication from its planned Sept launch onwards to cut through?  We know that that home energy efficiency improvements tend to be far from top of mind or high up people’s To Do lists, and this autumn many households will have a lot of other more pressing concerns.

I remain hopeful but there are major challenges to overcome if the scheme is to have any significant real world impact. Getting these kinds of home improvements planned, done and funded will be a complex process with multiple points at which people might decide not to bother. What needs to be done will vary from home to home: will assessment be carried out by someone trustworthy and independent from installers (as with the Green Deal scheme) and how will householders find such assessors? Then how do people find and select local companies who could do the recommended work and do those providers need to be accredited in some way for the grant to be approved? At what point is the grant received – will householders need to pay in full and then apply?

In many cases to get a step change in energy efficiency we’re talking about messy, expensive and disruptive changes like installing solid wall insulation or replacing windows or boilers. While many of us remain stuck at home how feasible will it be for people to face going through that upheaval?

And the scary fact that no-one is talking about: to seriously reduce carbon emissions from homes we need a lot of homes to stop using gas for heating and hot water. That’s right: goodbye to the gas boiler supplying your hot water and radiators. Will these grants apply to installation of ground or air source heat pumps or even hydrogen based systems? If this scheme can massively expand an understanding of and appetite for these newer systems from householders and landlords, and rapidly create a national workforce that can install them, it could be a game changer. However the scheme is reported to last for only one year, which makes it unlikely that it can do more than facilitate smaller wins around optimising insulation or double glazing.

How successful Green Homes Grants become will depend both on the big picture and the details: the big picture of branding and communication so that the scheme remains salient, understood and trusted over the coming months; and the details of what measures are covered and how friction-less each stage of the process can be.

Contact me or David Hall at Behaviour Change if you want to discuss further.

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