Sustainable house, sustainable communities

June 17, 2011 by
Filed under: Public policy 

There is an important and fascinating debate taking place about the Coalition’s Energy Bill and particularly the Green Deal. As many will know, the basic proposition is that house-holders get a loan which enables them to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and which is then paid back through a 25 year tax on their fuel bills. Key is the idea of ‘the golden rule’ which specifies that householders’ total fuel bills fall as a consequence (in other words the money saved though energy efficiency must be greater than the repayment levy on bills).

As the Bill goes through committee stage there are several vital debates. One concerns guarantees that the Green Deal will actually deliver the scale of carbon reductions necessary to meet the overall emission reduction target for the nation. Another focuses on worries that householders’ – particularly poorer householders’ – savings will be over-estimated and that the golden rule will be broken. This would amount to an energy efficiency version of mis-selling in which energy companies persuade people to sign up to a deal which in the end leaves them out of pocket.

It is surely important that both these concerns are adequately addressed in the final legislation. But the issue which most interests me involves attempts to ensure that the Green Deal market is not entirely stitched up by big players such as energy companies or supermarket chains. On the one hand, this is about making sure there is potential here for the SME sector. The Government has said it wants to ensure SMEs get a slice of the market but at the same time seem to be resisting and legislative guarantee to that effect.

On the other hand, there is surely scope here for a link between energy efficiency and community capacity? Community engagement is critical to the success of a scheme like the green deal. This is for three reasons:

Householders taking out loans need to trust providers (current levels of trust in major energy companies are not high)

Research shows that there is a contagion effect in energy efficiency. For example, people are much more likely to be responsive to the offer of solar panels if someone else in their street has already installed them

The economies of alternative energy schemes (for example micro-generation) rely on a high level of take up in a particular locality

For all these reasons it makes sense to encourage community based non-profit groups to be the driving force for the Green Deal. And there is another equally important possibility. If such schemes make it possible to achieve higher levels of emissions reduction, could there be scope for these scheme to meet the golden rule AND generate an income stream for community organisations?

This seems like a great opportunity and maybe even something with which RSA Fellows could engage. But perhaps I don’t fully understand the issues or the constraints of the Coalition plan. So – as always – I would be very grateful for informed feedback.

Finally, despite Tessy Britton’s best efforts she is still three names short of the five needed (50% of my readership) to stop me making up and telling rubbish jokes which are in some way related to my subject matter. As a small concession I have at least decided today to publish the joke at the end so readers have the option of stopping now and avoiding having to groan loudly in about 5 seconds….

What’s the difference between Napoleon and Josephine making love before Waterloo and a recycling centre?

One’s a bottle bank while the other’s a battle bonk

If, after that, it’s still possible, have a good weekend …



  • Sarah

    PLEASE don’t stop the corny jokes! I love them!! Can I count as a -1 vote so you need 4 more names to be stopped??

  • Tessy Britton

    What was I thinking!

    I have seen the error of my ways and I withdraw my vote Matthew.

    Next thing you know people will ask me to stop with my stupid jokes … and what after that?

    Slippery Slope Stuff.

    [Apologies to Matthew’s mum]

  • Jeff Mowatt

    Matthew, I found the video today on Enlightened Enterprise and many of the things being said on the responsibility of business and sustainability were very familiar.

    Our approach to sustainable local economies is called People-Centered Economic Development. The first practical application was in Russia in 1999 and this was something which was mentioned when the RSA wrote inviting me to become a fellow last year. Here is an overview.

    The story of how this began with a challenge to traditional capitalism begins at the White House and has roots in the Vietnam war.

    We’re in the supply chain of several corporates, though not B&Q.

    Why is there an assumption that this enlightened capitalism hasn’t already been put into practice?

  • Jamie

    No comment on the jokes (apart from that I liked the one that made it into the Standard), but you might be interested in Forum for the Future’s Funding Revolution report:

    The report features a few case studies of community energy projects eg. retrofits, PV arrays, wind turbines that can generate low carbon energy and become cash-cows that can fund other activities for the community.

    Getting more RSA-related, Green Trust Wind is an organisation (run by a Fellow) doing exactly this: and the Citizen Power team are helping a community group in Peterborough raise funds to retrofit three village halls. The latter need supporters to win funding, so do visit this link and click ‘support this group':

  • Ian Christie

    A good post on a big issue. The Green Deal can’t be allowed to be messed up as the Feed-In Tariffs have been, with discouraging signals being sent about medium and large solar arrays. (Incidentally, the Coalition has got its policies in the wrong order. Energy saving should be top priority, followed by heat, followed by renewable micro-generation. But we have started with FITs and won’t get to the Green Deal or Renewable Heat Incentive until late 2012.) The Green Deal needs a lot of funding and a lot of trusted providers, so it is crucial that the likes of B&Q, Co-Op etc get involved, and not just the big 6 energy companies. It is equally important that sources of finance other than the equally distrusted and disliked big banks are made available. This means, for example, that the Green Investment Bank should be able to lend and invest in community-based projects and mutual organisations.

  • matthew taylor

    Thanks Ian and Jamie I am doing a (very short) talk tomorrow on micro-generation so all useful thoughts gratefully received. Thanks for the point and links, Jeff. Tessy and Sarah ! What can i say – today’s joke is a realcorker.

  •, phil korbel

    An insightful blog Matthew – only slightly marred by the groan at the joke…

    Last weekend there was an inaugural meet for the Manchester-based Carbon Co-op [] – which is just what you sketch out – a community/social enterprise alternative to the Green Deal. It seeks to both offer a good return on investment for lenders, lower carbon use and use some of the returns to tackle fuel poverty. All this by not maximising the profit margin and building trust between the customers (our members) and suppliers, who’ll be on best behaviour as we’ll be bulk buying.

    Opening for membership in a week or three (touch wood)

    watch this space…

  • Liz Laine

    I absolutely agree on the importance of community contagion, and have been involved in a number of schemes that aim to ‘normalise’ energy efficient houses, such as the Old Home Superhome network.

    To pick up one line of thinking, you ask how income from the Green Deal can be returned to communities. Here in Hockerton, Nottinghamshire, we are looking at this the other way round. We have a community-owned wind turbine that will raise substantial revenue for sustainability projects in the (off-gas, solid wall homed) village. One of the projects we’d like to undertake is to help people make their homes more energy efficient, and I can see that would be best done alongside the Green Deal as we could then benefit from the Government-backed accreditation schemes and additional support from the ECO where appropriate.

    But how? It’s early days both for us and the Green Deal so I hope by continuing to raise this scenario, or opportunity even, the market will provide us with a solution…