Green Deal: are we unrealistically hopeful?

Criticism continues to hamper the roll-out of the Green Deal, but are we putting too much pressure on the Government's flagship scheme? Leigh Stringer investigates

Since its launch back in February, the Green Deal has received intense censure. From the interest rates on offer to the lack of publicising by the Government, the Green Deal has seen the enthusiasm of this once hailed environmental scheme sucked from its branches.

Just last month, the Government’s estimation, to have 10,000 sign ups by the end of the year, was hit by the arguably low uptake figures announced, which showed that just four customers had signed up to the scheme since its launch.

However, many in the construction industry, along with the Government, have maintained that it is far too early to judge the success of the scheme.

Head of resource efficient building at the Institute for Sustainability, Terry McGivern, adds that in addition to allowing the Green Deal time to gain momentum, the Government’s role should be as facilitator rather than leader of the movement.

“The Government needs to encourage solutions that deliver the results of the scheme but to expect them to transform the market is unrealistic, as it’s too large an issue. It has to come from action by the industry and usually that comes from commercial opportunity; it doesn’t come through a sense of obligation unless it’s a legislative obligation,” he says.

Comparing the Green Deal to a business start-up, McGivern says the amount of initial enquiries the Green Deal has received is encouraging and any business manager would expect the enquiries to take some time to convert into sales.

“The opportunity is there, we all recognise this as an enormous opportunity but it’s about how we get to those trigger points where the market starts to transform into the really large volume of sign-ups the Government islooking for,” he adds.

“I wouldn’t want to predict it yet but I think there is enough incentive and momentum in the industry, people are coming up with solutions and that has to come from the commercial sector,” he says.

McGivern said that he knows of a series of solutions that are being worked up commercially that address the fundamental issues such as affordability of the scheme, how to engage the consumer and how to shift their behaviour. However, he couldn’t provide details as they were in the development stage.

“We are spending most of our time looking at what are the solutions that the market can deliver. It obviously needs a policy environment and a regulatory environment that makes that relatively possible but it’s got to come more from the market rather than from Government. Government should be stimulating it and not doing much more”.

However, according to McGivern the market is not there, and until these fundamental issues are dealt with, such as how the customers are addressed, the Green Deal will struggle to succeed.

“Issues around the nature of how to address the customer are quite apparent, so if you looked at the offer you could argue that it isn’t yet right. The affordability is not there and potentially the interest rate is not the level that is attractive to people.

“I still qualify that by saying it’s a little bit early to start drawing deep conclusions because we’ll find out over time and we are starting to do that with a lot of people on the ground. Now if there isn’t the take up, we have to question the reasons behind it,” says McGivern.

One issue that has been raised is the inclusion of trusted local firms. “If you look at the general home improvement market, which is huge, it continues strongly. It hasn’t stopped because of Government policy or intervention, it continues as a huge market and is dominated by small local firms who are generally trusted and the Green Deal so far is not using that route to market,” he says.

However, McGivern added that this is for understandable reasons. “I’m not suggesting that you can suddenly do it with thousands of small firms but at the moment the route to market isn’t necessarily going to get to the large homeowner market”.

“It’s not going to be the huge numbers that people would like it to be and that’s because most people recognise that there are so many complex issues going on with the scheme and that there are still many issues that need to be addressed.

“I’d like to look at it positively and constructively and say that from my point of view we’re looking at the low carbon building retrofit agenda. But how do you move from here to 2050 and deliver 20 million homes or so. How do you achieve that amazing challenge? It’s not just going to be done by Government intervention it’s got to be market intervention as well”.

Leigh Stringer is edie energy and sustainability editor

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