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We need a grass-roots approach to energy-efficiency

The Committee on Climate Change states that in order for the UK to meet its legally binding carbon targets, we need to insulate all of our lofts and cavity walls by 2015 and 2m solid walls by 2020.

Yet at the end of 2013, more than 7m lofts and over 5m homes with cavity walls remained uninsulated, while fewer than 250,000 solid-walled properties – just 3 per cent of the 8m homes that have them – had been improved.

The government’s top-down approach to energy-efficiency through the Green Deal and Energy Companies Obligation is clearly resulting in a gulf between our ambitions and what is being delivered on the ground.

Is it therefore time for a new, grass-roots approach to energy-efficiency, much in the same way that we have seen for renewable energy? There is evidence this is already beginning to happen.

Grass-roots schemes

Green Deal Communities is one such attempt. The £80m government-initiated and funded programme scheme is designed to support local authorities to roll out the Green Deal on a street-by-street, local area basis, targeting hard-to-treat homes.

While perhaps too early to judge the success of the initiative, the first six schemes, which aim to reach 7,000 homes, have recently been announced.

“A major barrier to reducing energy demand is behaviour and the very notion that consumers do not have the ability to control the amount of energy they use”

The emergence of a number of community interest companies interested in energy-efficiency, such as Green Deal Together in the South-east of England, is also encouraging.

The idea behind CICs, which often act as non-profit Green Deal providers themselves, is to be trusted delivery agents of the scheme, ensuring both their residents and local business are able to benefit.

Changing behaviour

Of course, a major barrier to reducing energy demand is behaviour and the very notion that consumers do not have the ability to control the amount of energy they use.

It is necessary to have ‘A New Conversation about Energy’ – a forthcoming industry initiative designed to help people understand how to use less energy and empower them to take action.

A kind of digital switchover campaign for energy consumers, it will see an unprecedented collaboration of big-name brands, membership organisations, trusted charities and the public sector coming together to highlight existing solutions to control energy bills, address the lack of trust within the market and reframe the negative debate on energy.

Companies such as Carillion and Willmott Dixon have contributed to this from the onset alongside consumer-facing brands such as B&Q and Homebase, and co-ordinated by social enterprises Forum for the Future and Behaviour Change.

The success of these schemes will obviously have a huge impact for those contractors and their supply chains that will carry out the work and deliver the products required to improve our draughty homes.

John Alker is director of policy and communications at UK Green Building Council

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