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If we want sustainability incentives to work for us, let’s think big

Lakehouse head of sustainability Simon Green argues that we need to be more ambitious if we want to unlock the full potential of sustainability incentives.

Cheer, grumble or groan as we might about this or that government incentive, it’s our job as contractors and consultants to grind away at the coalface to find the best way to deliver on sustainability.

Happily, there’s some agreement in the industry on the value of renewable technologies, improving energy-efficiency and retrofit. These are vitally important to hitting carbon emissions targets and reducing the cost of energy.

Combining sustainability incentives

In Lakehouse’s experience, largely working with local authorities with ageing housing stock and many potentially vulnerable stakeholders, these issues are made all too pressing by the human challenges of fuel poverty and building sustainable communities in a time of austerity.

Nonetheless, there‘s a tendency for some to view green incentives – Energy Companies Obligation, Feed-in Tariffs, the Renewable Heat Incentive, the Green Deal – as piecemeal or too complex to access effectively.

“I’d like to add some simple advice: think big, be ambitious”

Questions put to Lakehouse often focus on the eligibility of individual projects for ECO or Green Deal funding, rather than how incentives can work in combination to bring about wide-ranging improvements across a large scheme or property portfolio.

In the sustainability debate we like to talk about strategic thinking, holistic approaches, or integrated and co-ordinated solutions.

All of these are important, but I’d like to add some simple advice: think big, be ambitious.

Holistic approach to reduce costs

For local authorities, rather than taking a project-by-project approach, look at a whole section of the housing stock. Thinking big opens up economies of scale, cross-subsidies for improvements across a varied portfolio, and higher carbon returns for ECO funding.

Prioritising those sections of a housing portfolio with ‘hard-to-treat’ wall cavities, for example, means that the cost of more expensive external wall insulation can be reduced. Such approaches help to maximise ECO funding and increase the technical and economic viability of projects.

“We’re aiming to show that if ambitious projects can be de-risked, local authorities will have the confidence to think big”

Proper planning and comprehensive feasibility studies can identify such opportunities for ‘blended rates’ and programmes that can be delivered at low – even negligible – cost. ECO funding can be combined with income from solar PV and the Feed-in Tariff.

This can all be still more carbon- and cost-effective if we combine retrofit with existing planned works and funded programmes. Through quality retrofit works, future maintenance costs can be significantly reduced.

One of the benefits of ECO over its predecessors (CERT and CESP) is that it can help to provide funding for large-scale initiatives, not just for individual projects.

Through the ECO+ Consortium – a partnership targeting the barriers to such measures – we’re aiming to show that if ambitious projects can be de-risked, local authorities will have the confidence to think big.

The need for data 

The catch? There’s often one essential missing piece: data.

The most common challenge we face is early access to accurate and comprehensive data on the condition of housing stock. We need this to enable proper planning, solid assessments of feasibility, and to draw out the available finance.

If this data is in place, then bringing ambition, scale and expertise to the table can leverage the very best from sustainability incentives.

Simon Green is head of sustainability at Lakehouse and project lead at the ECO+ Consortium

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