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'Green Deal' promises massive energy efficiency drive

In a radical new approach to improving home energy efficiency, up to 100,000 workers could be employed in upgrading Britain's homes over the next five years, giving a big boost to the 'green economy' and helping the UK to meet its targets on cutting carbon emissions. These were the claims made by Energy Minister Chris Huhne when he announced details of the Coalition government's new 'Green Deal' programme in early November.

Planned to start in Autumn 2012, the scheme will provide up-front loans for home improvements such as loft and cavity wall insulation, to be repaid out of savings on energy bills. This is intended to overcome the obstacle faced by many householders of having to fund measures in full before seeing any financial return. All of the UK's 26 million households could potentially be eligible for the scheme, with no means testing or credit rating approval required, and the scheme will apply to private homeowners, tenants and landlords alike. It will also be accesssible to businesses

How will it work?

To be eligible, all measures must meet one overriding criterion: the expected saving on energy costs must be greater than the cost of the work. If this is the case, then the applicant goes through three steps:

1. An energy survey of the property is made by an independent assessor, who will advise on the best optionsthermal image for improving the energy efficiency of the property. The cost of the survey will be met as part of the Deal.

2. Finance for the work will be arranged from an accredited provider. The loan will be repaid through the householder's energy bills, probably with a mechanism rather like PAYE for income tax.

3. The appropriate work will be done by approved installers, overseen by a government-backed accreditation scheme.

Green Deal on the High Street?

Various well-known companies, such as B &Q, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, have been approached by the government with a view to providing finance for the scheme, which might see loans of up to £10,000 per household. Repayment terms will be set according to the likely level of savings, with only a proportion of savings going towards repaying the loan, so that the householder will still see some reduction in their energy bills as a result of the work. Also, the loan will attach to the property, not to the individual, so it will transfer to the new owner when the property is sold.

Action before 2012

In the run-up to the Green Deal, changes to the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) scheme mean that some 3.5 million more households can now benefit from energy efficiency measures funded by the major energy suppliers. The changes, introduced in June 2010, specify that at least two-thirds of the increased target for carbon savings must be delivered through professionally installed insulation measures, and 15% of savings must be achieved in a 'Super Priority Group' comprising low-income households considered to be most at risk of fuel poverty. This is in addition to the existing target of 40% savings from a Priority Group of vulnerable and low-income households.