STA BLOGS: Solar energy and the Green Homes Grant

20 October 2020 | Chris Hewett, Chief Executive, STA:

Earlier in the Autumn the Government announced a £2bn package for a grants scheme to drive retrofitting in homes across the country to reduce carbon emissions. It generated great headlines, warm words from the environment movement and provided a tangible example of how the country might ‘build back better’. Hooray for the Green Homes Grant you might think.

Sadly, the delivery of the scheme has yet to match the rhetoric.  Yes, I know that sounds all too familiar right now. What is currently on offer has many flaws and unless the scheme changes significantly it will, at best, deliver a tiny proportion of what Ministers claimed and, at worst, pay for poor quality work, encourage mis-selling and actually damage the reputation of the existing retrofitting industry.

The solar energy industry is currently only partially impacted. Whilst solar thermal installations are eligible for a Green Homes Grant voucher, solar power and energy storage installations are not. Initially this seemed like a huge missed opportunity for the industry, but frankly under the current scheme rules, we have dodged a bullet. I suspect most STA members will not engage with the scheme at all until it has been improved.

Last week MCS Chief Executive, Ian Rippin, criticised the scheme as being ‘pushed through at breakneck speed without being properly glued together’, and we have also been hearing similar feedback direct from our solar thermal installers. Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert has called it a shambles. The main flaw is the requirement for the entire £2bn budget to be spent by March 31st 2021, after which there is nothing. Add to that the delay in release of the vouchers until November 2020 at the earliest, and the lack of resources available within the scheme administrators, and it is obvious that the scheme is undeliverable.

The MCS Helpline is handing a huge influx of customer enquiries, because they have people on the end of a phone, where other organisations haven’t had the chance to scale up. Installers themselves don’t have the resources to handle such an increase in inquiries which all need home visits, quotes and a lot of hand holding of customers, coupled with a real uncertainty about how the work will actually get paid for (see confusion on vouchers above).

Rest assured we have fed all of this back to the Government, as have many others. Officials are doing their best to improve the system, but until the Treasury extend the deadline for the scheme by 18 months at a minimum, the Green Homes Grant will be unfit for purpose.

The answers to the challenges are very clear. The existing £2bn Green Homes Grant budget should be available to spend until the end of 2022 and eligibility should be opened up to all zero carbon retrofitting options, including solar PV and energy storage. This would allow installers to invest in their workforce and create jobs, maximise the number of potential householders who might be attracted by the grant scheme and use the skills and resources of the best quality assurance scheme for zero-carbon retrofitting – MCS.

Once these no brainer changes are put in place there should be a proper consultation with industry on designing a long term scheme for retrofitting homes in line with net zero, out to 2030. This should integrate government grants with incentives for green mortgages, rolling out smart metering, EV charging and Ofgem regulation on network upgrading.

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  • Chris Hewett is the Chief Executive of the Solar Trade Association.

    Chris has 25 years’ experience in advocacy, policy research, thought leadership and campaigning on a wide variety of sustainability, energy and environmental issues. He was Head of Climate Change for the Environment Agency, providing advice to Government on climate change mitigation and adaptation. He has worked for a number of leading NGOs & government agencies, including successful advocacy for the Green Investment Bank at Green Alliance, global aviation research for the Committee on Climate Change, and more recently leading policy and advocacy for the Finance Innovation Lab