Blog from Louise Sunderland – We have a choice: more of the same for consumers, or a chance at really raising the building renovation rate

Having avidly read the Commission’s clean energy package documents at the end of last year (OK, so I admit, not every page but all of the important stuff from a buildings perspective) I am now reading the briefings and recommendations on changes to the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) being circulated in response.

Reading these numerous briefings through the lens of the consumer, I have seen many sophisticated definitions of the need for consumer information and support to increase the all-important building renovation rate. It is variously recognised that citizens need adequate information on a range of aspects (e.g technical, financial and implementation), that deep renovations are very likely staged meaning recommendations to consumers must enable this and, importantly, that consumers need to be empowered rather than just informed.

When reading down however to the proposed responses to this huge challenge – in the form of the recommendations to the negotiators and Parliament – I have become disheartened. I feel they are almost universally inadequate to the challenge (and please, please if you have examples that give you cause to disagree with me then get in touch).

The best of the proposals I have seen on this subject comes from BPIE and has been picked up by a number of organisations. The recommendation is for a Building Renovation Passport. The Passport, which is proposed as an evolution of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), outlines a long-term (up to 15 or 20 years) step-by-step ‘renovation roadmap’ for a specific building and is produced resulting from an on-site energy audit. The benefits of this approach, among others, are that not only do the recommendations look at the building as a whole but the longer-term perspective ensures that measures are recommended in an order which ensures future measures are not precluded or disadvantaged. My caution, however, would be against dooming this useful tool to failure by expecting more of it than it could ever realistically deliver. The Building Renovation Passport is an information tool which can be used as part of a wider advisory service to help to create awareness, motivate and inform the consumer to take the decision to seek out a renovation, but it is not an end to end service in itself.

At worst the proposals call for more of the same generic, mass market, often time-limited information services or campaigns, requirements for which are already littered throughout the EPBD and EED (see EPBD Article 20, EED Article 12, EED Article 17).

The sort of building renovations we all know we need – which put simply are ambitious (read: potentially difficult) and very, very numerous – are simply not seen through to successful completion based on TV information campaigns alone. Information campaigns can be effective awareness raisers, guilt inducers or inspirers but without real support or assistance the average lay-consumer (and not so lay-consumer) will get lost – and I can say this from experience.

Consumers need a personalised combination of specialist advice which may include technical, financial, legal, practical and behavioural advice (and advice here is a two-way engagement, not one way information provision). They also need practical assistance and local connections to get the works completed and to monitor and realise the desired results.

Unfortunately, information and advice to consumers in the current European energy in buildings package is defined by two separate approaches: mass market information provision and ‘technical’ information tools – and by the latter I mean the EPC or (more usefully) an energy audit.

And it seems that many of the recommendations in the briefings that I have read follow the existing pattern – suggesting more of the same broad, generic information provision or technical tools (into which basket I am afraid I place the Building Renovation Passport).

We need to get more creative. We need ideas that deliver robust solutions to address what is probably the single greatest challenge to raising the renovation rate. An end to end service to help consumers – be they homeowners, SMEs, building managers – to which consumers can turn when armed with their Building Renovation Passport, or when inspired by the mass market communications flooding their airwaves to start the process of figuring out how to actually go about achieving that warm, healthy, affordable, more valuable building on a budget they can afford.

The Energy Advice Exchange, of which I am a member, has proposed an amendment to EPBD Article 20 to require Member States to create a robust strategy for information and advice provision to consumers on technical, legal, financial and behavioural issues. We would also suggest an amendment to the new EPBD Article 2A on renovation strategies to require member states to include the provision of advisory services to consumers as part of their “policies and measures to stimulate… renovations of buildings” (EPBD Art 2A 1c). The clean energy package documentation has put clear and renewed emphasis on the renovation strategies as key to increasing the rate of building renovation so the consumer must be made present in the strategies.

We do need to stop trying to bridge the Euphrates with a matchstick and realise that consumers really are at the heart of the building renovation revolution. We need to call for policies and programmes to be introduced as part of the clean energy package that are truly sufficient to enable them to play the part into which we have cast them.

One thought on “Blog from Louise Sunderland – We have a choice: more of the same for consumers, or a chance at really raising the building renovation rate

  1. A superb piece, Louise, many congratulations. You are quite right to be stressing that Individual public policies can never achieve very much. What is always required is essentially a set of fully integrated measures.
    Might I suggest that the old ” consumer as donkey” metaphor is apposite? Essentially, successful delivery of energy efficiency requires that judicious mixture of carrots, sticks and tambourines

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