In need of an eco education

As the number of external wall insulation continues to disappoint Dave Sherlock discusses there is a need to learn more about the ECO scheme

The ECO scheme was hailed as a new and improved energy saving initiative, building and improving on the CERT and CESP schemes that preceded it, but the industry was simply not geared up for it. We are now almost a year into the new ECO scheme and very little work has been completed under the programme.

After six months, the level of energy-efficient installations that had taken place under the scheme made for disappointing reading. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) ‘Meeting Carbon Budgets’ annual progress report issued at the end of June, revealed that the UK is nowhere near on track to meet its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the 2020s. The report highlighted that the very low levels of solid wall insulation currently being installed need to be significantly increased to meet the Carbon Budgets.

The installation levels of external wall insulation (EWI) increased significantly in 2012, up a seemingly staggering 432 per cent from 2011. However, this was from a very low base; just 82,000 properties were installed with the measure last year, compared with 1.3m that were fitted with new boilers and 1.2m that benefitted from professional loft insulation.

Despite this increase in installations of EWI at the end of 2012, when 100 per cent funding became available under the CERT and CESP schemes, this has taken a backwards step since Green Deal and ECO launched. Installation numbers fell by approximately 94 per cent in the first quarter of 2013, which is an issue that warrants an urgent address if insulation levels suggested by the CCC are to be achieved.

The scheme is slowly gaining momentum, but despite the overall number of measures being installed under ECO increasing month on month, the level of EWI installations is still well below where it needs to be. The latest figures from DECC revealed that in August 2013 49,964 ECO measures were installed, up 11 per cent on July, however just 4 per cent of these measures were EWI, compared with 25 per cent that were boilers, 33 per cent cavity wall insulation and 36 per cent loft insulation.

One of the major problems is the outcome of the CESP and CERT initiatives which seem to be tarnishing the new scheme. The last 12 months of the CESP scheme saw it become 100 per cent funded, due to the energy companies not meeting their obligations as the scheme was nearing its end, which resulted in 50 per cent of the overall CESP target being achieved in the last six months of the programme. As a result, many local authorities and social housing providers within the industry believe that ECO will follow the same pattern and are not committing to projects that will be 50 per cent - 60 per cent funded now, if there is a chance they will become fully funded as we get further into the 2.5 year programme.

The CCC have stated that financial and fiscal incentives need to be put in place to encourage the uptake of EWI under the ECO scheme, an idea which is supported by many within the industry. However, in addition to the issues regarding funding access, it is without doubt the lack of understanding of the ECO scheme that is causing barriers to projects being awarded. The ECO requirements are much more complex than the previous CESP and CERT schemes and not fully understanding how the process works is causing delays, right from project feasibility to completion.

The task of increasing uptake is not being helped by the fact that the few projects that have been awarded under the scheme have been fraught with issues, not least the methodology for calculating carbon savings.

For each energy efficient measure that is installed under ECO, a carbon saving calculation associated with that measure needs to be submitted to Ofgem.

Ofgem stipulates that the carbon saving must be calculated by using either the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) or Reduced data Standard Assessment Procedure (RdSAP) methodologies. However, there are five different approved software applications that can be used to produce the ECO carbon saving score, which is where the inconsistencies come into play. Each programme has a different tool that calculates the annual cost saving, meaning that they each generate a different final ECO carbon score.

As there is not a consistent approach to the output of the SAP or RdSAP calculations, each supplier is providing Ofgem with a different figure. This is a big risk for companies involved in installing EWI as this could be of financial detriment to them. Currently there are projects that have been finished, but cannot be completed as suppliers are unsure of the correct carbon saving score and correct output format to provide to Ofgem.

This uncertainty is highlighted by the figures released in the Ofgem ECO Compliance report published in August, which revealed that of the 115,000 energy efficient measures submitted until the end of June, only 34,000 (30 per cent) were approved by Ofgem. In addition, 30,000 measures were sent back to suppliers for data correction and additional clarification on information. This is just serving to cause more uncertainty in the industry and is putting people off awarding projects under the schemes until issues such as this are rectified.

These initial issues that are being experienced are testament to a scheme that has been well planned in theory, but has been launched without effective communication with housing associations, energy companies and EWI providers. 

Should the government wish to increase take up of solid wall insulation, it needs to firstly ensure that a clearly defined scheme with all necessary processes are firmly in place, but more importantly it needs to educate system manufacturers, contractors and social housing providers on exactly how these processes should work.


• Dave Sherlock is energy efficiency manager for Wetherby Building Systems 


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