Delving into the ‘great green myth’
- 12 Apr 2012, 11:30
- Ros Donald and Robin Webster
The Daily Mail has a love-hate relationship with energy
efficiency. Leaf through its money section and you'll find a
five step guide to energy saving alongside offers of a "
free energy monitor for every reader", all in the name of
saving the reader money.
But move to the front section and you'll find a full-frontal assault on
Green Deal - the cornerstone of the government's plans to make
the country's buildings more energy efficient (and incidentally
reduce consumer energy bills).
Under the Green Deal, homeowners will be able to
borrow up to £10,000 to pay for measures such as loft
insulation and pay back with an extra charge on their energy bills.
The idea is that the money households save means they won't end up
with higher bills at the end - a concept the government calls the '
golden rule'. But the Mail is, to say the least, skeptical,
calling the scheme the
Great green myth, or how an eco home can end up costing you
Backed up by studies?
According to the article, three different studies suggest that
the Green Deal will leave homeowners "thousands of pounds out of
the Telegraph has repeated almost word for word).
The first study - according to the Mail from the University of
Bath - looked at savings from seven different homes after they
installed energy efficiency measures.
The Mail says:
"One family living in a Victorian
terrace installed ten separate improvements including floor and
loft insulation, double glazing and solar heating. They were
predicted to save £1,139 a year after spending more than £50,000 on
'greening' their house. The actual savings were just a quarter of
that figure at £269. A 1930s semi expected to save £413 a year
saved just £216."
Although the research is on Bath University's website, two
researchers from the rather un-Daily Mail
Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales carried out
this work. They compared the houses' actual energy use and the
savings they made after the efficiency measures were installed
against the amounts which were predicted by the
Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) - the measure the
government intends to use when it rolls out the Green
The study found that the SAP accurately calculated savings for
one of the households, overestimated five of the houses' savings
and underestimated the savings made by one of the houses.
The researchers also found an interesting complication: some
householders kept the lights and heating on for longer periods
after they had the building refurbished - meaning they didn't save
as much as expected.
Overall, the study suggests that the government needs to improve
the SAP and better understand behaviour to make the
Green Deal work. Perhaps more relevantly, the researchers also call
for more research to be done on a larger number of houses that
better represent the UK's average housing stock.
According to the Mail, another study on 139 council houses in
Sunderland found they saved 12 per cent on bills rather than the 19
per cent estimated by the SAP calculation. It adds:
An official pilot study on 67 homes in
Sutton, South London, found all of those who took the 25-year
payback package rather than ten years - a third of the owners -
faced repayments higher than the savings.
Both of these case studies actually hie from the
same piece of research, published by the Department for energy
and Climate Change (DECC) in September 2011. The study encompassed
pilot Green Deal schemes, and examined what happened to 311
houses in all.
The Mail's reporting of the
Sunderland case study is accurate - although you might argue 12
per cent savings on bills still isn't bad going. The social housing
company undertaking the pilot study in Sunderland anticipated a
carbon saving of 26 per cent - the figure achieved was 18 per cent.
Residents' average yearly energy cost was reduced from £890 per
home to £784 - a cost reduction of 12 per cent instead of the
expected 19 per cent. Overall, 65 per cent of its customers said
they'd seen a reduction in gas and electricity bill due to the
But the results from the
pilot in Sutton don't seem to square with the Mail's
interpretation of them at all. In fact, "the 25-year payback period
resulted in almost three quarters (72%) of the homeowners securing
annual savings on energy bills in excess of the loan
Those who chose the shorter payback period fared less well, but
knew this would probably be the case. The majority of the pilot
households signed up to the 10-year period, "despite knowing they
would be reducing the likelihood of making their loan repayments
lower than the fuel bill savings", the report says.
All of the participants were offered "repayments that wouldn't
exceed fuel bill savings", leading the study to conclude that the
participants weren't primarily interested in lower fuel bills - a
fact that makes it hard to judge the study based on savings
The DECC report carries a large health warning on calculating
the savings households incurred. This is because the leaders of the
five pilots were allowed to add up the savings but did so to
different criteria, so their results were "very different" in some
cases, DECC says.
So what do the studies actually say?
As you might expect, the results of these interesting but not
exactly conclusive studies show there is likely some serious room
for improvement in some areas - crucially in tightening up the SAP
and engaging better with residents on how to get the best out of
the deal. But to read the Mail's carefully-selected nuggets
of information - which either focus on the worst possible aspects
of the results or just make outcomes up - you'd think the authors
would be getting into line to call for the scheme to be scrapped.
But then, when are these things as exciting as they're made out to
UPDATE 12th April 8.30pm: The article was corrected in
response to the first comment below