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Green Deal – Opportunities and challenges

When one looks into the future for energy assessors under the Green Deal, am not at all sure it’s looking good.One thing seems certain from the information coming out about the Green Deal – over the next 18 months everyone in the energy assessment industry is going to have to raise their game just to survive, let alone thrive.

There are big opportunities ahead, but those unable to take advantage of them will be left behind in the rush.

Assessors are being told to expect a massive increase in their workload, and accreditation bodies are no doubt looking to the opportunities for training and accrediting not just Green Deal assessors but also the much larger market for Green Deal approved contractors.

But the sad fact, it seems to me, is that our industry is probably too fragmented at present to face the challenges ahead. There are just too many competing accreditation bodies, and too many independent assessors for the system to work properly when it goes national in a big way.

Up to now the industry has operated like a branch of the dark arts. Only assessors, rather like high priests in some arcane religion, really know what it is all about, and the process of locating one has been as mysterious as water divining.

As far as the public are concerned, dealing with someone for whom you have little more than a mobile number, is just not a happy situation. As assessors we have been vetted and are closely monitored, but the public know nothing of that process, and would be much happier dealing with someone supplied by a large company they know and trust.

From an assessor’s point of view, I have to say that there is something very relaxing about a job where none of your clients have a clue what you are doing, or whether you are doing it right – but it was never going to last. The only reason it has gone on this long is that there just wasn’t enough money in the industry to make it worthwhile for any big outfit to come in, but Green Deal is changing all that.

Kingfisher group, parent company of B & Q and Screwfix, which took over NES/NHER in July, is just the first of the big beasts circling the herd to come in for the kill. It’s hard to believe that it will be the last. And as fine a body of people as we are, I doubt that supervising some energy assessors was ever going to be anywhere near the top of the priority list for one of the world’s largest building supplies firm.

Providing the assessors to identify work that can be done, and the approved contractors to do it, AND providing the supplies to do the work – all backed up with the known and trusted B & Q or Screwfix name – that will be how the real money is made.

So what part will assessors – both independents and those employed by/contracted to agents – play in this process? That also seems to raise another major question – when is an EPC not an EPC?

The government has been saying, almost since the Green Deal was mooted, that the EPC would be at the heart of it. But surely that will not be the EPC as we know it. And by that I’m not just referring to the redesign of the certificate that has been going on, but fundamental changes in the whole process.

The Green Deal is surely about encouraging people to improve their properties now – not just when they are planning to sell or let them. Shorn of its legislative basis, the EPC will surely morph into something more like a home improvement survey.

That might seem good for assessors, since whatever it is, there will be a need to carry out a lot of them. But is the government really going to be happy with the EPC process as it stands at the moment?

The whole idea of the Green Deal is to encourage people to get property improvements done by removing barriers, by creating a framework within which they do not have to pay up front for the work. Except that, as things stand at present, the whole process will begin with an EPC assessment which people WILL have to pay for up front. Especially with the more expensive commercial EPCs, that could really be off-putting for building owners. And the government will NOT be happy with that.

The great advantage, from the government’s point of view, of having larger players in the market is that they will be able to absorb the initial cost of the EPC. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that someone in the Kingfisher organisation is already designing banners reading ‘Free EPC if you get the work done by us!’

The great unanswered question is of course whether Kingfisher will want to use existing assessors, or will prefer to train their own people, bearing in mind that business execs are likely to regard assessing as a sales role, as Jim Gillespie of IDEA pointed out in the magazine last month.

As long as there are independent estate agents, there should – in theory – be a place for independent assessors. But what if, as seems likely to me, EPCs become connected in public perception with the building rather than the property sector?

After all, most people have no idea what an EPC really is. Yes, it’s a check on the property’s energy performance – but what is that? The concept just doesn’t communicate itself well to most people. Energy saving – the good old ‘switch off the lights’ routine – is familiar and clear to most people. But energy performance? How do you get energy to perform? Teach it tricks? Get it to sit up and beg? The really depressing thing about this obscure bit of techno-jargon is how much the person who came up with it was probably getting paid.

The public might well respond more positively to a much clearer, simpler notion of the EPC – that it is simply a survey of home improvements needed. People are familiar with the concept of a survey, but not with the concept of an ‘assessment’. They understand ‘home improvements’, and ‘energy saving’, but have no clue about ‘energy performance’.

The fact is that even after some years, people just do not understand EPCs. They are not clear what they are for, or why the government makes people have them. If they were, maybe we wouldn’t have the severe problems with compliance that have plagued the commercial industry.

Giving Green Deal mass market appeal will mean communicating much better with the public, and making the whole process pain-free. And if that means that B & Q will be handing out free EPCs like Smarties – which they probably will – then it may be the beginning of the end for independent assessors.

I hope I’m wrong about that, but it isn’t looking good. Job at B & Q, anyone?

Written by Terry Wardle, Editor of Energy Assessor Magazine

4 Comments to Green Deal – Opportunities and challenges

  1. October 13, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Two points that you made are intertwined.

    There are a lot of companies out there offering assessment, and a lot of people who don’t know what assessors do – opening it up for abuse by the unscrupulous.

  2. Philip Wray's Gravatar Philip Wray
    December 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    In order for the green deal to work, there should be a requirement for domestic properties that are sold, to reach at least the same level as that proposed for leased properties, the whole problem with the system is that it hasn’t had a pass and fail mark. If the government really intend to become “ green” then logically every property in the UK would need to be surveyed and actions taken and option offered to fit in with the “green deal”

  3. December 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article about Green Deal independence from consumer focus – http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/files/2010/12/Independent-Green-Deal-advice-v1-0.pdf

  4. Keith FP's Gravatar Keith FP
    December 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Preserving the independence of the Green Deal Advisor and the impartiality of their advice seem to the paramount considerations. The Green Deal EPC survey involves data collection and the number of possible improvement types is defined by the scheme; loft insulation, replacement boiler, etc.
    The logical step would seem to be to make it mandatory for the GDA to offer alternative quotations for the work from alternative suppliers / installers using a Go Compare type website. This would take the dataset used to generate the EPC (as EPC Advisor already does) and match the recommended improvements to the products / services offered by approved suppliers / installers. Thus if an EPC identified cavity wall insulation as a recommended improvement the EPC would have already calculated the wall area to be insulated, the location and type of building. Any local or national company could then generate a quote subject to any additional job specific information required such as wall condition, cavity width, access restrictions, etc.
    This would allow the customer to pick and mix from their preferred suppliers. The DEA providing the survey would (automatically) take a small fee from each supplier that has produced a quote (perhaps a larger fee from the cheapest!) allowing the survey itself to be offered for a reduced fee. This would allow DEAs to retain their independence or if employed by a supplier company to justify the prices offered.
    When the survey is carried out with the customer present and web access is available the whole process can be carried out in real time. Alternatively the EPC and quotations can be produced remotely and delivered by email or as hard copy.

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