Fighting fuel poverty from the ground-up

Sébastien Reed investigates alternatives to resolving the problem of replacing inefficient and ineffective heating systems in an age of rising energy costs

With British Gas announcing a 12.5 per cent increase in their electricity prices due to affect more than three million customers and some sources estimating an overall nationwide energy price hike of £1.2 billion impacting on 12 million users – according to an Ofgem standard variable tariff comparison – the cost of energy in the UK will be looming large in the minds of numerous tenants this winter.

With this considered alongside expected fluctuations in rental costs and planned reductions in benefits, it comes as no surprise that housing providers are facing ever-increasing pressure from tenants to provide properties with more timely and efficient utility solutions. Beyond encouraging tenants to switch energy providers, there are numerous more practical, long-term, and scalable actions that can be taken as a way of lowering the energy consumption of your housing stock.

Nottingham’s revolutionary approach

Ten homes in Nottingham have been selected as part of a UK pilot aiming to radically improve older houses to save and generate energy making the residents of these homes ultra-low energy consumers.

Nottingham City Homes (NCH), the Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO) who manage and maintain the city council’s housing stock, has become the first landlord in the UK to adopt an approach to retrofitting housing solutions, known as Energiesprong (meaning “Energy Leap”) as part of the next phase in the city’s Greener HousiNG programme.

Energiesprong involves wrapping an existing property with pre-fabricated wall and roof panels. The comprehensive retrofit delivers a super insulated, low maintenance and affordable near net zero-energy home with a 30-year life and assured energy performance warranty.

The process, which can be completed in a matter of days, includes the installation of a thermally insulated roof cassette (an all-in-one panelised roof system) with solar PV built into it; a thermally-efficient wall envelope insulation panel system; low-maintenance glass panelled wall kitchen and bathroom; air or ground source heat pump and heating system; removal of gas to create an electricity only property; and low energy cooker and shower.

Originating in the Netherlands, Energiesprong brings today’s houses up to 2050 standards of energy efficiency and the new funding approach, ensures the works are affordable. Following Energiesprong’s success in the Netherlands, where a thousand homes a year are now receiving this high-tech makeover, the concept has been exported to France, Germany, Luxembourg, the USA and now the UK. 

Nottingham City Homes’ chief executive, Nick Murphy, says:

“While we’re delighted to be part of a UK-first pilot programme, it’s more important to us that we’re creating warmer, more energy efficient homes, which are cheaper to run for residents.

“The Greener HousiNG programme is dedicated to finding the most efficient and reliable solutions, to help us future proof our housing stock and tackle issues such as fuel poverty. Plus, the improvements will greatly improve the look and feel of the area.”

Councillor Jane Urquhart, the council’s portfolio holder for planning, housing & heritage, says:

“We’re very excited that Nottingham is at the forefront of this approach. Many of our residents live in fuel poverty so creating more energy efficient homes to reduce people’s energy bills is a high priority for us. Our Greener HousiNG programme has seen over 6,000 hard to heat homes in both social and private sectors receive energy efficiency measures.”

Ground source galore

Just over 100 miles south west of Nottingham, Burton Gardens is situated just a short walk from the centre of the picturesque rural village of Weobley, Herefordshire, part of the famous ‘Black and White Village Trail’. The Burton Gardens ground source heat pump retrofit scheme is being piloted by social housing provider Stonewater with the aim of providing residents with a warmer and cheaper home heating system that will save them hundreds of pounds annually on their energy bills.

Stonewater is working with British-manufacturer Kensa Heat Pumps on the pilot retrofit scheme which is due for completion in December this year. Ground source heat pumps will replace the residents’ expensive electric night storage heaters and immersion hot water heating systems.

Nick Harris, Stonewater’s chief executive says:

“With rising energy costs forcing more vulnerable people into fuel poverty, there is a real need for social landlords and housing providers to help tackle the problem which affects thousands of people across the UK.

“Effective measures such as replacing night storage heaters with more efficient, affordable and carbon-friendly home-heating technologies, can make a big difference to people’s lives, particularly their health and wellbeing. An average two-bedroom bungalow typically costs £800 a year to heat with night storage heaters, compared with £390 from a ground source heat pump – less than half the cost.”

The scheme’s communal ‘micro district’ design – in which a Kensa Shoebox heat pump installed inside each bungalow is connected to one of 25 communal boreholes – ensures eligibility for Energy Company Obligation (ECO) funding provided by Kensa’s partnership with EDF Energy, plus twenty years of income through the Non Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

This design also avoids the need for a plant room, and provides complete heating independence to the tenants who are free to switch energy providers as and when they please. Each resident will also receive a new hot water cylinder and radiators in place of the dated night storage units.

A win-win situation

What makes these two schemes even more attractive is their long-term financial viability. In fact, part of the innovation behind Energiesprong itself originates from the funding process. The household pays an ‘Energy plan’.

Energiesprong maximises energy and maintenance savings as well as other incomes from renewables and energy services. These incomes are guaranteed over a longer term by the solution provider creating an investment envelope typically between £40-50,000 for a 3 bedroom home. The occupant also receives a guaranteed energy service plan, akin to a mobile phone bundle, with hot water provision for a family, a kWh allowance and the ability to heat their home to 18-21°C all year round. The landlord (NHC) receives an on-going income to fund similar works to more homes.

Jon Warren, market maker at Energiesprong UK says,

“Feedback has been really positive. There’s no need to decant and tenants get a warm and desirable home within a fortnight.”

Energiesprong is kick-starting the UK market with additional EU funding to cover the initial setup and higher costs associated with pilot volumes. Warren adds:

“We are aiming to follow the Dutch example and make an ‘energy-leap’ to a volume deal, where they have delivered over 2,000 and are now upgrading 1,000 a year to 2050 standards, without subsidy.”

In a similar vein, the Burton Gardens retrofit is costing Stonewater £700,000 to install. The scheme is benefiting from subsidies by an upfront ECO grant of £95,000, which has an expected payback of 16 years with Stonewater receiving an additional £800,000 income over 20 years from the Government’s non-domestic RHI scheme.

Leon Storer, Stonewater assistant director of assets (West) comments,

“This is a win-win situation, where not only are we installing a sustainable, efficient heating solution that pays for itself and gives Stonewater a return over 20 years of RHI grant, the main factor for us all is that it reduces our residents heating bills and enables them to live in a warmer, healthier environment.”