Sir Robin Wales: building resilience is the key to helping people take control of their lives

Next autumn, the Government’s flagship energy efficiency policy, the Green Deal, is due to be introduced. It is vast in its ambition, aiming to enable a wave of improvements across the nation’s inefficient housing stock and to stimulate growth and create tens of thousands of jobs in the process. It offers a unique opportunity to advance the progressive agenda at the local level, in particular if resources are directed at improving the energy efficiency of fuel and income poor homes. It also presents opportunities for new partnerships between local government and communities.

The Green Deal centres upon a financing mechanism that will allow private sector companies, local authorities and social enterprises to install energy efficiency measures, like insulation, into homes at no up-front cost and for payment to be taken from the savings the measures generate off the home’s energy bills.

Provided that the technical aspects of this can be made to work (no mean feat) a big question remains – will many people want to have measures installed? If past experiences are anything to go by this is doubtful. While rising energy bills will help, the hassle involved in carrying out an installation, the low level financial benefits they often generate (in relation to many peoples’ annual incomes) and a lack of trust in installers are highly effective barriers to uptake.

Initiatives that can stimulate demand must be put in place alongside the financial mechanism if the Green Deal is to be effective. Recent research from IPPR suggests communities could have an important role to play.

IPPR’s report Green Streets, Strong Communities is an evaluation of the British Gas Green Streets Community Challenge, which saw 14 community groups across the UK compete to see who could be the greenest by delivering ‘energy projects’. These projects involved installing large amounts of energy efficiency measures and micro-renewable technologies into homes and community buildings.

One of the groups’ tasks was to engage their neighbours in energy saving; they used a number of different approaches and were highly effective. In a survey of 1300 people living near to one of the community groups, as a result of hearing about the project in their area, a strikingly high 61% of householders said they would be more likely to take action on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the future. In addition, 46% said they had been inspired to take action on energy efficiency and renewable energy, with 50% of these saying they had been inspired to install insulation, 23% a new boiler and 11% solar panels.

Community groups are effective at engaging people because they have rich, locally-based social networks to draw upon and, crucially, because they are trusted (with some exceptions), which stands in stark contrast to energy companies who are generally anything but. They are also passionate about improving their communities; it is insightful that more people participated in the projects out of a desire to do something of benefit for their community and interact with their neighbours, than to do something about climate change.

Community groups, however, are resource poor in technical expertise, time and capital and as such a Green Deal initiative will be beyond the capacity of most. In contrast, local authorities can access these resources and can deliver on scale; some have already signalled their intention to establish the necessary finance and organisational structures to deliver a scheme. If the resources of community groups and local authorities can be combined then there is the potential for highly effective initiatives that direct the benefits of the Green Deal to where it is needed most.

Reg Platt is Researcher at IPPR


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