Energy advice under the microscope

It is encouraging that there is increasing focus on the role and importance of the consumer in our sustainable energy strategies. Last November the European Commission published its consumer-centred clean energy policy package that proposes how to revise the current policy package to help meet our long-term energy and climate goals. Since then, there has been an important review – the so-called Bonfield Review – in the UK that looked at how to protect consumers and provide advice when they install sustainable energy measures in their home. Last week in an initial reaction, Catrin Maby wrote a post in EiD that focused on the importance of empowering consumers. David Cowburn, Managing Director at NAPIT Certification, writes on the Energy and Environment Management website about the importance of the Bonfield Review concerning protecting consumers. If you have views on the Bonfield Review, please pass them on.

 

Protecting consumers of domestic renewables and energy efficient technology

The recommendations of the Bonfield Review, which has just been released after months of delay, will improve energy efficiency in the UK and encourage the uptake of renewable technologies. The review also reaffirms the government’s commitment to offering a smart meter to every home and small business in Great Britain by the end of 2020.

The ‘Each Home Counts’ review, which was conducted by Dr Peter Bonfield at the request of the government, looks at how to protect consumers and provide advice for when they install energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in their homes.

To achieve this, the review sets out 27 recommendations for the government to consider. In this blog I will examine some of the key proposals of the review, highlighting areas of both optimism and concern moving forward.

To begin, the primary ‘high-level’ proposal of the review is the creation of a new quality mark for all future energy efficiency and renewable energy measures. For those who want to use the quality mark, the review lays out a ‘framework’ consisting of three key elements: A Consumer Charter, a Code of Conduct and a Code of Practice. The review also details that those working within the framework will need to display certain requirements and skills, including technical competence and customer interfacing skills. Aside from meeting the three elements of the quality mark, the only other required step for installers, designers and assessors would be to prove that they have been certified by an approved certification body.

Information hub

To enable this new framework to work effectively, the review outlines a number of recommendations for the supporting infrastructure that will need to be put in place. One of these is the development of a new central Information Hub which will act as a collection point for the best practices on standard, statistics and general information approved under the framework. The hub, which will be both consumer and industry-facing, will only be available for those certified with the new quality mark. In conjunction with this, the review recommends that a ‘Data Warehouse’ could also be created which would enable consumers to access accurate data and information on their homes and allow companies to have a greater understanding of the needs of their customers and subsequently offer bespoke advice.

At the core of the review is its focus on improving the quality of future installations and ensuring that skilled installers are carrying out work to the correct standards. For this reason, the review recommends the creation of an industry-wide compliance and enforcement regime to be coordinated nationally. This regime would allow information on the quality of assessors to be shared and give designers and installers the ability to identify and sanction poor practice.

Smart meters

Moving on from this, the review also reaffirms the government’s commitment to offering every home and small business in Great Britain with a smart meter by the end of 2020 and recommends that tailored home energy efficiency advice should be given to consumers during the smart meter installation visit.

All in all, the proposals set out in the review demonstrate the government’s commitment to improving the uptake of renewables end energy efficiency measures in the UK, however there are still some issues that need to be addressed. To begin with, these proposals carry a risk of adding yet another layer of bureaucracy onto a sector which already has Gas Safe, Competent Person Schemes and the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. The report promises to build on such schemes rather than duplicate their requirements, but does not yet set out the details for how they would be integrated. The report also appears to promise higher standards, more promotion, more enforcement and more inspection, while at the same time suggesting that savings will accrue from the removal of duplication without identifying where such savings will be found.

To conclude, whilst we at NAPIT (the National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers) are optimistic that the proposals set out in the Bonfield Review signify the government’s backing for the energy efficiency and renewables industry, the devil remains in the detail. The review’s focus on quality and consumer protection is indeed something to be praised, however without proper promotion and enforcement all of these proposals could be in vain. Moving forward, NAPIT will engage with the government as they act on these proposals, and continue to work on behalf of our members to push for practical and meaningful changes that the industry so desperately needs.

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