Event Report: Will retrofit guinea-pigs fly? They had better, or else wfio (!)… #Green Deal #Manchester

Attention Conservation Notice: A short account of a meeting at Manchester Town Hall for people interested in lowering energy bills, saving carbon and generally taking (baby) steps on the journey to Greater Manchester’s climate change goals. Followed by a blow-by-blow account, complete with digressions and footnotes. Mmm!!

UPDATE (4th October 2012) – “Hello,
Many thanks to everyone who came to the Community Green Deal event last week.
There are full details and an application form for the Community Green Deal and Community Champions programmes here: http://www.carbon.coop/content/projects
You can join Carbon Co-op as a member here: http://www.carbon.coop/user/register
The notes from the feedback sessions have all been written up and we’ll be posting the offers of assistance and the answers to the questions on our website soon.
Thanks,
Jonathan Atkinson
Carbon Co-op

Insulation is not sexy. That dodgy novel is not called “Fifty Shades of Triple Glazing.” That said, this government’s approach to the retrofit of domestic properties, (also known as “the Green Deal.”)  will appeal to people who like being kept in the dark, tied up in tape and subjected themselves to (financial) pain and (cognitive) humiliation.  For the rest of us – those in Manchester anyway –  there’s an alternative brewing, via a “Community Green Deal.” At a meeting last night in the cavernous and ornate “conference room” at the Town Hall, it became apparent that Manchester is – again – serving as a test-bed for government policy, this time around elements of the going-off-half-cocked Green Deal. We’re guinea pigs, and we better figure our how to fly…

The event, attended by about 40 people (a mix of folks from Housing Associations, Local Authorities, Third Sector organisations, consultants and, of course, householders) was organised by Carbon Coop. Who they? They describe themselves as  “a group of Greater Manchester residents who’ve begun to carry out changes in our own houses and communities, we’ve teamed up with housing specialists to look at what more we can do where we live.”
Speakers included a couple of URBED folks, who’ve been responsible for the writing of the Greater Manchester Domestic Retrofit Strategy and an officer from Manchester City Council’s Green City Team.
The take-home messageCarbon Coop have got their mitts on a wodge of money from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to run a project to see what reductions are possible on a bunch of different kinds of houses.
They are going to do detailed surveys on 20 properties, and then work with 8 of those 20 to actually DO a bunch of retrofit work by March next year (zero interest loans available!!). And then they’ll look what energy savings have been made.

Wanna learn more? Check out their website… www.carbon.coop

Here’s the blow-by-blow account
Stuart Carvel of the Green City Team gave the Greater Manchester Context. There’s a three year programme being signed off by the GM Combined Authority on Friday Local authorities will not be providers of retrofit (2) but will work with assessors and suppliers etc. It’s part of something called “Green Deal Go Early” – £3m (out of a total of £12m spread around 7 Core Cities – i.e. Manchester got a big wodge of that dosh). There’ll be 5 projects, 700 homes involved. The idea is to get experience for assessors, develop supply chain accreditation and get a monitoring regime in place. [What he didn’t say – and I didn’t challenge him on – is that if by 2015 that’s all we have in place, then that leaves a VANISHINGLY small amount of time to, erm, achieve the retrofit goals in the Greater Manchester Climate Change Strategy, with its target dates of 2020. So I guess it’s all to the good that virtually nobody outside the charmed circle – who can be relied upon to not mention the failures – knows of the GMCCS’s existence, a good two years after its ‘creation’.]

[UPDATE – this is cut and paste from a comment posted below by Jonathan Atkinson –
To clarify what Stuart said:
The £3m DECC-funded ‘Go Early’ project, testing ‘Green Deal like’ measures will included 700 households and finish by March 2013. Its results will inform the wider role out of Green Deal in Greater Manchester and nationally. In the mean time, the Greater Manchester Authority is also seeking to take a co-ordinated approach to Green Deal and, pending a decision from the chief executives this Friday, is looking to procure arrangements with Green Deal providers. This procured relationship will last for three years but I suppose the expectation would be for this to be tendered out again after this time. In that time the ambition would be to reach thousands or tens of thousands of households – that of course depends on the success of Green Deal!]

Next up Charlie Baker of Urbed gave his standard-but-always-entertaining-even-if-the-same-jokes-are-being-recycled powerpoint presentation (3) about the complexities of retrofit (4)
He pointed out that the Green Deal doesn’t cover questions of humidity within a hyper-insulated house (a theme another speaker returned to), and pointed to work URBED had done with “SHAP” in East Midlands and also Rotheram.

As befits Mr Baker’s incurable optimism, he ended with the observations that – with plenty of “ifs” – it might be possible to hit the GM Domestic Retrofit targets, but that there was also the question of decentralised energy production (“People’s Power Stations”) to be considered. We might get him drunk (not hard) and pump him for info.

Next up Marianne Heaslip; she has crunched the energy-consumption numbers on twenty homes across Greater Manchester (5) She pointed out that there are widespread concerns that there is a gap between models and reality, between energy expenditure and comfort etc. The “Standard Assessment Procedure” carries within it many problems, not least the creation of “false anchors” (i.e. A wrong baseline from which future savings are then calculated), failure to look at what appliances are in the house etc.
She pointed out that there are various reasons for “under-heating” of houses, besides fuel poverty. People have different comfort expectations, or may be keeping the thermostat low to save carbon (excuse me while I chip the ice of my keyboard). This of course has serious implications for the amount of carbon savings you might hypothetically be able to make, and with smaller savings there’d be less money available to make home improvements. (6)
By the way, increased humidity in a house (either from underheating or overinsulating) can cause really quite nasty respiratory problems.

Just when there was a risk of everyone keeling over from the rather nasty disease known formally as powerpointus consecutivitis, Jonathan Atkinson invited the people at each table to discuss among themselves whether they would be likely to undertake big retrofit, and what was stopping them from doing it tomorrow. (7) Fruitful discussions seemed to be happening at each table, but mercifully there was not a report back from everyone.

Then Mr Atkinson gave a brief account of the state of play with the Green Deal;
it’s not coming out in one big push in October, as had been suggested/expected until fairly recently. Some more bits will be launched in January.
He mentioned the Golden Rule – savings on the pill will help to bay for the work, over a certain time period (I STILL don’t get this, and I have been told it a bunch of times. I am not particularly stupid. Is there a video explaining it? If not, why not???)
There are, of course, many concerns that householders and organisations have issues around

  • confidence and trust of who’ll actually do the work
  • is the Golden Rule too limiting
  • is the Green Deal going to encourage “small measures” that then get ripped out and replaced in ten years time
  • will it price small providers out of the market
  • the sheer uncertainty of it all (look at what happened with the Feed-in-Tariff for solar).

[He’s not the only one with questions – check out this from the editor of Businessgreen.com]

He finished with a plug for Carbon Coop, which is looking to do this retrofit thing street by street, encouraging peer-to-peer learning; viral decarbonisation, if you will.

In the Q and A he mentioned the “Community Champions” scheme, where money is available to run assessments and workshops and so on. We’ll pay him the standard MCFly writers rate for an article. Watch this space.

A small portion of the Q and A
Q. What order should retrofit be done – always loft insulation first?
A. It depends on the house!

Q Are other cities doing similar-ish things, and are you learning from them
A. Ish – Bristol Energy Coop, Brighton Energy Coop. Lines of communication are open, lessons will be shared.

Q Is the Standard Assessment Procedure/Whole House Assessment something you can do yourself?
A. More or less. And Carbon Coop is trying to get it online, but needs funding to do that. Watch this space

Q Is this Carbon Coop pilot of 20 houses limited to owner occupiers?
A. Landlord needs to give consent, and so only if the landlord and the tenant are in perfect harmony…

Q Is Carbon Coop able to recommend suppliers and installers/
A. There is one … (name not given)

MCFly says; Big picture – this tentative, “learn as we go, fairly slowly” is probably all we can hope for under the current way of thinking. It will need both a change of heart and direction at Westminster level (next General Election isn’t due until 2015, btw) BUT ALSO a change in thinking about economics, investment, relocalisation etc – steadystatemanchester.net, anyone?

What was encouraging about this meeting
– the decent turn-out on a rainy evening when there are many other more exciting things folks could be doing with their time

– the format, which allowed people to find out who was in the room, allowed small group discussion of relevant topics, while still getting lots of information across

Marc Hudson
mcmonthly@gmail.com

Disclaimer: I know the Carbon Coop crowd well, and that’s possibly clouding my objectivity. In future, we’ll try to get other folks writing about what they are up to.

Footnotes
(1) wfio?
(2) see our story about the Green Deal and the Environment Commission from back in the day we still dragged ourselves along, eyelid toothpicks at the ready.
(3)From here – “PowerPoint was released by Microsoft in 1990 as a way to euthanize cattle using a method less cruel than hitting them over the head with iron mallets. After PETA successfully argued in court that PowerPoint actually was more cruel than iron mallets, the program was adopted by corporations for slide show presentations.
Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.
PowerPoint is usually restricted to conference rooms where the doors are locked from the outside. It is, therefore, considered unsuited for large rallies, where people have a means of escape and where the purpose is to energize rather than daze.”
(4)Charlie, I never claimed individual houses couldn’t achieve the 80% reduction target (kudos to you for having done so) – I was talking about achieving it city-wide!!
(5) Including the one in which this blog post is being written
(6) What a species. It’s not even funny anymore, our suicidal tendency.
(7) For the record – “Call me maybe”, but a) there may not be many savings to be made in my house due to that thermostat thing, and b) I don’t know how long I’ll be in Manchester, so dropping a big wodge of cash that doesn’t necessarily raise the resale value of the house might well be a lousy way to save carbon…. [He says, desperately trying to convince himself that there isn’t a yawning chasm between his principles and his principal]

About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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4 Responses to Event Report: Will retrofit guinea-pigs fly? They had better, or else wfio (!)… #Green Deal #Manchester

  1. Jonathan Atkinson says:

    Thanks for coming and for the write up.

    Fifty Shades of Triple Glazing? There’s mileage in that I think.

    Here’s a simple, but a fear un-illuminating, graphic explaining the Golden Rule: http://s.coop/y3g0 Maybe DECC will do us a video at some point, it’s beyond me I’m afraid!

    To clarify what Stuart said:
    The £3m DECC-funded ‘Go Early’ project, testing ‘Green Deal like’ measures will included 700 households and finish by March 2013. It’s results will inform the wider role out of Green Deal in Greater Manchester and nationally.

    In the mean time, the Greater Manchester Authority is also seeking to take a co-ordinated approach to Green Deal and, pending a decision from the chief executives this Friday, is looking to procure arrangements with Green Deal providers. This procured relationship will last for three years but I suppose the expectation would be for this to be tendered out again after this time. In that time the ambition would be to reach thousands or tens of thousands of households – that of course depends on the success of Green Deal!

  2. Why are we still going around in circles, how many trials are needed to learn, what has been known since the 60s and 70s. By the time anything tangible gets done, it will be too late.
    The con about the ‘green deal’, is that it is geared up to provide business for the usual big players. It does not really support any real local initiatives.

    • Jonathan Atkinson says:

      In many respects I would normally agree with you Patrick but in terms of Green Deal I think the government should actually be applauded for the scope and scale of their ambition. As Marc comments, insulation isn’t sexy yet the government have developed a mechanism to deliver much needed improvements to thousands/millions of households around the UK. Environmentalists should really see this as one of the biggest opportunities for carbon reduction in our lifetimes (solar panels are play things in comparison).

      I wont pretend that the Big Six Energy Companies aren’t partly behind the delay, but in my opinion it’s more due to the sheer complexity of the proposed ideas. What DECC have learnt, to their credit, is that you can’t just chuck on thousands of pounds worth of energy saving measures on to a house and hope they work. We risk problems with ventilation, condensation and poor workmanship which would damage the reputation of all of us who advocate these approaches. DECC are taking a sensible, considered approach.

      As for pricing out smaller players, I 100% agree, hence it’s great that DECC have given Carbon Co-op, a very small, co-operative start up, a significant amount of support to prove the case. We hope this programme will show that the massive challenge of retrofit can best be tackled through a community-led approach with householders owning and controlling the means of delivery. Power to the people!

  3. Emily Barker says:

    I think I have worked out the Golden Rule – so your energy bills stay the same price after the work is done, you don’t actually pay less BUT the money that is being saved goes towards the capital that was used for the retrofitting. Therefore you don’t lose or gain any money, but it stays the same. Is that right?

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