Monday, 13 February 2012

Birmingham Energy Savers consultation

As part of my work as a BFOE volunteer working on the Final Demand campaign, this week I attended a consultation event on delivering the Green Deal in Birmingham, organised by the pioneering Birmingham Energy Savers project. 

In a nutshell, the Green Deal is a new government initiative aimed at reducing people’s energy use, thereby reducing their carbon emissions and alleviating fuel poverty, as well as creating jobs, in one fell swoop.

Through the scheme, people are able to improve the energy efficiency of their homes without having to pay for the costs upfront. Loft- and cavity-wall-insulation and efficient boilers are among the measures that can be taken to reduce energy wastage in the home, which of course reduces energy use. The work is paid for through people’s fuel bills, but with the ‘Golden Rule’ of the Green Deal – that the cost of the retrofit will not be more than the savings made on the bills – a net saving is still made.

Birmingham is the first local authority to be offering the Green Deal. Birmingham Energy Savers (BES) is a city council initiative which offers solar pv installations and energy advice to the people of Birmingham, aiming to reduce the city’s carbon emissions and create local jobs. Amazingly, it is the second largest refurbishment programme in the world!

BES is currently gearing up to start delivering the Green Deal later in the year when it goes live. Already they have conducted pilot tests and been finding partners to work with. Right now they are hammering out the finer details of how the real deal will work – and that is why they organised the consultation event that I went to.

The event was attended by a varied bunch, including housing associations, energy companies, consultants, contractors, renewable energy companies, councillors, business people – and BFOE!

We started with a presentation explaining the project and some of the potential problems it may face – such as the numerous very old properties that don’t meet the required standards. For example, some Victorian houses only have one wall layer, so can’t have cavity wall insulation (as they have no cavity!). I was pleased to hear that extra subsidies may be available for these houses.

We then broke out into three focus groups. BES asked us all for our input on three areas, to feed it into their continuing development of the project. Firstly my group focused on behaviour change – why it’s important, what can be changed and what resources are needed. With a representative of a housing association in our group, we spent some time discussed potential problems of offering the deal to social housing tenants, in particular people questioning why they have to pay for the work themselves – should the housing association not provide them with energy efficient homes in the first place? 

We all acknowledged the need to maintain a dialogue with ‘customers’, providing ongoing support rather than simply going in, doing the work, and then disappearing. This could be done with six-month follow-up consultations. With the installation of solar pv panels that provide free electricity, there is a danger that some people may actually become more frivolous with how they use that electricity. Smart meters – which allow people to clearly see how much energy they are using – may be a good way to engage people with how much energy they are actually using and encourage them to be more careful with it.

Our group then moved on to discuss customer satisfaction. Having work done on your house can be extremely disruptive, and if a house is having a full retrofit the tenant may have to move out of it while the work is being done, so ensuring minimal disruption is a high priority for ensuring customer satisfaction. We suggested that complimentary services such as free storage space may help to make the process smoother.

We agreed that the energy advisor making the initial contact will need to be multiskilled to put the customer at ease, explain the technical details but not present the work as a ‘sale’, as this may be off-putting for some people and even arouse suspicion of the scheme. A national website and hotline will be provided for people to follow up on the initial visit and confirm the project as bona fide and not a scam.

Finally we discussed awareness-raising and engagement. We built upon the previous discussion of potential suspicion, and agreed that clear endorsement by Birmingham City Council and/or central government was required to put people’s minds at ease that the project is for real

I raised the point that in communicating with people about the scheme, the environmental message needs to be as strong as the financial one. For many people it will be the financial incentive that attracts them, but the reason the deal exists is to reduce carbon emissions and that message should not be lost. If it is then a precious opportunity to raise awareness of the direct links between day-to-day behaviour and climate change would be lost. Some people will also be attracted by the environmental incentive too, so there is a need to understand people’s drivers.

I found the consultation interesting and informative, and it was great to be representing BFOE ‘out there’. It felt like a responsibility and a privilege to be championing the green perspective and engaging with people with very different perspectives, such as business, housing and even energy (I was sat next to a man from one of the big six energy companies, who we are currently campaigning against with our Final Demand campaign!). This was both challenging and enjoyable, and felt very necessary.
Kara Moses

1 comment:

Steve Daniel said...

Great Blog..!!!! Keep Blogging.... :)