The former energy and climate change minister Greg Barker said disinterest on the side of the energy companies was to blame for the sluggish Green Deal take-off.

However, the Green Deal is not led by energy companies, but Green Deal providers.

The Energy Company Obligation is delivered by utilities. And like the predecessor schemes, CERT, CESP, EEC, EESoP, I would dare say that the energy companies actually love them.

It gives them publicity and reputational gains funded through a consumer levy – how brilliant is that? They can present themselves as caring for the wellbeing and household bills of their customers, can proactively offer seemingly sensible measures and packages to help them save money and live more comfortably.

As long as measures are implemented in such a fashion that fuel consumption doesn’t change much, boxes are ticked, consciences relieved and some business is generated. All good. Ofgem seem to completely subscribe to this business model and condone the practices associated therewith.

2014-12-06_time_flies
time flies – challenges don’t vanish on their own

Another heating season is reaching its end with the fundamentals of this situation unchanged. Thermodynamics are also unchanged – the slightest crack or gap in an insulating envelope will cause a dramatic reduction in its overall efficiency. Heat rises. Convective losses (draught proofing) usually outdo conductive losses (insulation) when it comes to transferring expensively generated heat to the atmosphere.

Humble loft hatches are a prime example of all these hard facts.

In late 2010, explorations started on improving the delivery of “professionally” installed loft insulation. At the time, I was Co-ordinator at the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes (later re-named to Energy Efficiency Partnership for Buildings, then merged with the National Energy Foundation), responsible amongst others for our building fabric work streams. A task group was formed and initially quick progress made. One notable decision made by the taskgroup was to disallow leaving gaping holes around halogen downlighters, but mandating fire-rated covers that can be insulated over. Fire safety is paramount, but if you cut out large chunks of the mineral wool insulation around a downlighter, you generate in fact a little chimney, whereby the hot halogen lap helps suck up hot air into the loft and from there to the atmosphere. Some installers argued that placing the cut-out disk on top of the surrounding insulation would compensate, but with our robust O-level physics this kind of sophistry was cleanly dismissed.

When it came to the hatch however, the committee got encamped, entrenched, and finally fell apart over the issue. There is only a small selection of retrofit products available that don’t require ripping out the entire hatch and replacing it with an insulated one – hardly in scope for a loft insulation job. (To my dismay I later found out just how many of these jobs installers are expected to, or pressurised into performing per day. Quality is nearly completely barred at that rate.)

The proprietor of Igloo Environmental contacted me and explained to me at length, at times as if single-handedly keeping the BT alive, the intricacies around the old and new Construction Products Regulations and General Product Safety Regulations. Initially I thought – sure, an inventor trying to flog his product, who happens to be a business lawyer by trade, contorting the law at will to serve his purposes. That’s why I double- and triple-checked with the UK Trading Standards Institution, the Local Government Association, in particular Local Government Regulation (formerly LACORS) and various trade and professional bodies. Upshot: when doing professional building work, you have to use approved construction products (only). See the chamber of horrors blog post for products clearly not abiding by this requirement.

Who cares? Not enough people, and especially not utility companies or their regulator, or DECC, the government department overseeing Ofgem.

The whole new Accreditation Framework for the Green Deal (which also applies to the Energy Company Obligation) has added a layer of bureaucracy and welcome income for certification bodies, but ultimately did nothing to improve the delivery of measures when it comes down to niggly thermodynamic criteria. Zip.

Where HatchThatch was installed, customers reportedly had to turn their thermostat down a distinct notch. Oh shock and horror for the utilities! How much better if lifetime carbon savings have been banked “cost-effectively”, obligations “fulfilled”, hands shaken and backs covered. After all, crude gas prices have come down and we cannot allow these poor behemoths raking in millions to have their turnover squeezed! Just imagine the amount of taxes these companies pay! Somewhere there are false economies in this, if only I could spot them.

utilitarian cunning