Interesting piece in The Guardian today (18th Jan) on the Green Deal. “The energy ‘savings’ that are just hot air” is the headline for the story, but is that really the case?

You can read the article here:

The gist of it is that in practice the financial savings from installing energy efficiency measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation and a new boiler do not measure up to the advertisements. The new figures come from the National Energy Efficiency Data Framework (NEED) published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). NEED tracked the observed savings in thousands of homes compared with homes that did not have measures installed. It found the average decrease in home gas consumption for loft insulation was 1.7%, for cavity wall insulation 7.8% and for a new boiler it was 9.2%, a total of nearly 19%.

What does this mean financially? An independent environmentalist, Chris Goodall, used these figures to calculate that the average savings on loft insulation amounted to £15.50, compared with £25-£180 published by the Energy Saving Trust, which is the source of the figures used by government and the energy industry. Similar differences apply to the other two measures.

The Energy Saving Trust agrees that it will have to modify its figures and intends to publish new ones at the end of this month. DECC does not agree with the financial calculation, disputing the methodology used.

The tone of the article is disparaging of the government’s Green Deal: it is a “devastating blow to the controversial programme.” Certainly, the Green Deal is based on loans at quite a high interest rate being paid back through the value of energy savings, so if the savings are lower than expected and planned, the deal doesn’t look so good.

I’m not sure this will make much difference. Very few people have taken out the Green Deal in full, so the downward revision will mean that instead of almost nobody taking out the deal to date, it will be virtually nobody in future.

There is potentially a bigger impact upon the energy saving movement as a whole. If savings are not as great as thought, where is the incentive for anyone to pay for energy saving measures, be it through the Green Deal or not? As Goodall points out in the comments of his blog posting that provided the information for the Guardian article (, the cost of some energy saving measures can exceed the cost of offshore wind. Wouldn’t it therefore make sense for funds to be applied there instead?

Whether it does or not, we need the facts to make sensible decisions, so the NEED figures are valuable. If the value of energy savings really is less than thought, then that’s the world we have to deal with; we can’t wish it away.

Individuals don’t have the option of spending their money building wind farms instead of insulating their houses. Each must come to their own decision and the use of averages can be misleading. (So, for that matter, is the use of top of the range figures in “save up to £X” style adverts.)

Goodall uses as the cost of energy, the cheapest gas tariff of under 4p per kWh. As WREN technical director Jerry Clark points out, if you set the savings at 6p for oil, 8p for LPG, or 13p for electricity, the picture is somewhat different. And that is the case for very many homes in Wadebridge, and Cornwall generally.

In addition, most people who have had this sort of work done opt for a greater level of comfort as a result, either consciously or sub-consciously, rather than financial savings. The full savings would be achieved only if the comfort levels were kept the same after the work. Comfort levels are not just a matter of hedonism. Living in cold, damp houses causes excess deaths and increases people’s susceptibility to illness, as well as making them miserable. The well-being aspect should not be ignored, even if it makes the average energy finances look worse.

There is a reason why the Energy Saving Trust give their savings figures as a range. It’s not because they are  bad at maths; it’s that the benefits do vary enormously. If you have an old, draughty house with no insulation, you are going to get more benefit from insulation and draught proofing than someone in a newer house with some, albeit inadequate, insulation. This is no great revelation.

The solution to the problem of energy savings benefits not being worth the costs comes down to assessing each house to see what benefits can be gained, how quickly and at what cost. For some it will be all about the finances. For others, comfort may be the clincher. And others yet will save energy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – more power to their elbows (or solar panels, or biomass boilers, or ... )

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of WREN.

WREN can help people in Wadebridge with assessing their energy saving needs. We have access to a range of approved installers covering covering various energy efficiency measures, and can guide you to a sensible decision.