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Making Net Zero Energy work - Q&A with Karen Strandoo

The housing sector is exploring alternative models to bring high energy efficiency to improve the quality of our national stock. One such model that Energy Saving Trust is involved in is Energiesprong – a programme originating in the Netherlands that has led to the refurbishment of 111, 000 homes. Business Development Manager Karen Strandoo talks us through the programme.


What is the current situation for our housing stock in the UK?

KS: Housing accounts for a third of UK emissions, so if we are to meet our obligations clearly we’ve got to focus on making our homes as energy efficient as possible and we still have a long way to go with our old stock. It’s disappointing that UK Government policy has rolled back from a commitment to build zero carbon homes in the future  –  not least because industry was geared up to invest for the future.


What is Energiesprong all about?

KS: Energiesprong is a new solution pioneered in Holland to retrofit houses to a zero energy standard.  The developers of Energiesprong are now exploring whether this successful model for retrofitting homes can work elsewhere and they have established a working group of construction companies and social housing providers to examine the practicalities of the Energiesprong solution working here in the UK. The group is focusing on two main areas: how the technology can be applied to our housing stock, and what financial model will succeed in making the solution viable for both the industry and the housing providers.


How is a home retrofitted? What technologies can we expect to see from a ‘Net Zero Energy’ home?

KS: It’s a whole-house approach to insulating homes that essentially involves wrapping– up the home’s external walls for maximum thermal efficiency and installing solar PV panels on the roof to generate the electricity the home needs. It’s a unique approach since it’s a modular build with the external wall cladding produced off– site and then delivered in sections. The actual installation can take just one day – which really minimises the hassle factor for householders. When the work is done, the home is effectively off-grid.


How would an extensive program of Net Zero Energy refurbishments be paid for?

KS: It’s not just the technology that will be a little unfamiliar in the UK – the financing mechanism is brand new too. Within the social housing sector in Holland the Energiesprong model works by replacing the bill that the residents would have paid to the energy companies with an Energy Plan that is paid to the housing provider. The costs have to be below the savings made on energy, and with a 30-year guarantee on the performance of the measures installed. Given that there are no energy bills for the resident anymore, this doesn’t mean they’re paying for energy services twice. More broadly, in terms of how much it costs to install measures, it’s really a case of the more demand there is and the better industry gets at delivering the solution, the cheaper the solution becomes.


How is Energy Saving Trust involved in the project?

KS: We’ve always been interested in innovative ways of retrofitting our homes and we’re very keen to look at alternative financing mechanisms for retrofit in the light of recent policy changes such the end of Green Deal and reductions in the amount of work taking place under ECO. We’re supporting housing providers by looking at the housing stock and identifying what types of houses are suitable for this kind of refurbishment, such the poorly-insulated homes built in the 1960s and 70s.


Can the UK housing market be compared to the Netherlands?

KS: The technology used can be applied to the UK, but regulations are different – especially in terms of planning. This of course has to be considered. Even in Holland they had to address national regulations for Energiesprong to be adopted widely. There’s a need to simultaneously make sure we’ve got the technology and regulatory framework right, and that’s what the UK working group will be looking at.


Is the public ready for low-carbon housing?

KS: The public is becoming increasingly aware of the need to make our homes more energy efficient – not least because of the rising costs energy bills. Financial incentives for home owners, such as Feed-in Tariffs, have also helped to stimulate a demand. But I think the bigger question now is how homeowners will cope without the financial support that was previously available.


What’s the construction industry view on these developments?

KS: Having spoken to the companies that are looking at Energiesprong, I would say they’re really interested in exploring the potential for a new retrofit solution. The building industry is very good at responding to the needs of housing providers. However, ultimately it really will depend on demonstrating that the financial side will work for them. The housing providers and the industry representatives that are part of the working group are excited about Energiesprong. It offers a new approach to energy efficiency – and that’s something they feel they need.


What progress has been made on getting UK housing providers on board?

KS: Social housing providers are concerned about fuel poverty, so they definitely have the desire to make their tenants’ homes more energy efficient. However, there are lots of competing pressures on them right now, with social issues, right to buy and benefits changes among the top items on the agenda. If the Energiesprong solution can be demonstrated to be viable in the UK, then the social housing providers will play an essential part in any future delivery.

Energiesprong talks about ‘changing market conditions’. How can this be achieved in the UK?

KS: I think things have already changed. The advent of Green Deal and ECO, the financial incentives for renewables and the Zero Carbon Homes policy resulted in the construction industry gearing up for delivery by investing in their businesses as well as growing a more skilled workforce. Now with all the recent policy changes we are left with a vacuum. We need new solutions and financial models for the supply side to maintain momentum.


What difference do you think the UN climate change summit in Paris will make to the debate on energy efficient homes?

KS: Frankly, if nothing comes out of Paris then we’re in trouble, so I think the outcomes are really important for the UK to maintain a lead on climate change – and the possible impact of a bold statement on home energy efficiency shouldn’t be underestimated.


What’s the outlook for the project now?

KS: Our work looking at the housing stock and what energy efficiency work needs to be done where now points to a pressing need to develop a successful financial model. If it doesn’t work commercially in the UK then it’s not going to work at all. The fact that this work is happening and construction companies and housing providers are engaging with it is a massive positive – it’s not something they’re just going through the motions with. We all agree that we need to be exploring new ways of delivering energy efficiency in the future, so Energiesprong is certainly worth investigating.


All images courtesy of Energiesprong.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.
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