Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall Project: End of Project review 2023

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COMMUNITY ENERGY PLUS

Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall Project

Funded by the Energy Industry

Voluntary Redress Scheme

End of Project Review

Produced by James Miller

June 2023

What we set out to achieve What was delivered Types of advice and common themes Positive outcomes, successes and challenges 1 3 2 4 3 5 - 9 4 10 - 11 Quantitative summary 5 12 - 19 Conclusion 6 20 - 21 Page 2 Contents What next? 7 22 - 23

What we set out to achieve

The Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall (SHAC) project aimed to increase the uptake, accessibility and affordability of carbon reduction improvements for rural energy consumers. It aimed to help non-vulnerable households to access the advice necessary to decarbonise their homes, especially those using solid fuels and other higher carbon fuel sources.

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Demystify the low carbon energy market and technologies for older properties in rural communities. Facilitate and promote independent, self-help advice to carbon reduction technologies. Provide consumers with independent whole house assessments and advice to make informed choices

4. Help consumers reduce the cost of carbon reduction measures with help to access government funding schemes.

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What was delivered

The project started in May 2021 and was funded for two years; the continuing constraints due to COVID, especially in making in-home advice visits, changed our initial engagement plans and more phone-based advice was provided throughout the project than originally intended.

In the later part of project delivery the amount of phone-based advice was also increased due to the cost-of-living crisis leading to unprecedented amounts of people calling for advice on insulating their homes. Nearly one and a half thousand individual households were advised in total over the course of the project

almost 1,500 individual households advised over the course of the project

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Types of advice and common themes

Throughout the project, common themes have arisen about the advice householders were seeking. The main themes include:

Lack of understanding of the fabric first approach

There were a lot of enquiries from people who were considering solar photovoltaics or heat pumps as the first step to reducing their energy costs In many cases, after discussing their situation, it was clear that they could make larger savings for a lower cost by increasing their property’s insulation levels by following an insulation-first approach.

Necessity for funding

Most enquiries came from people enquiring about what grant funding was available to retrofit their houses. These householders had concluded that it was either unaffordable or uneconomical to invest directly in low carbon measures, especially when considering measures such as external wall insulation which can cost tens of thousands to install and have decades-long payback periods The funding schemes that do exist are inadequate compared to levels of interest and demand, and in many cases, the funding eligibility requirements are so restrictive that people who most need this support are likely not able to receive it.

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Types of advice and common themes

Funding is not suitable for historic properties

There are no grant funding schemes that support the installation of breathable insulation materials that are required for stone and cob walled buildings. These products tend to be more expensive than oil-based insulation products; equally, these properties are generally the buildings that are the most expensive to heat and are more

challenging to retrofit in a way that is both cost-effective and sympathetic to the building’s construction.

Scepticism and lack of knowledge about heat pumps

Many people are aware that heat pumps are becoming fossil fuel-based systems are phased out, and that the

one in the future, or they have been offered funding to install one. However, due to a lack of information and experience about them, many people are concerned about the running costs and if they are a suitable technology to heat their homes In many cases, people are aware of the bad experiences others have had with a heat pump, and they are looking for independent advice on how well they work before they decide to install one. Following our advice, most people were reassured about how effective a heat pump can be and whether they are suitable to install in their home, but there is still a general reluctance to install them. This may reduce over time as heat pumps become more common

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Types of advice and common themes

We have also found that there is lack of understanding about how to use a heat pump most cost-effectively. This is a particular issue with fully funded heat pump installs. Often, people are trying to use them like a fossil fuel heating system, i.e. turn them on and off twice a day, and as a result, their heating bills are high and their homes are cold

We also found that many households automatically assume that their heat pump is to blame for high electricity bills, because they do not properly understand how much their heat pumps and other electrical appliances in their home cost to run. This is increasingly common as more heat pumps are installed and, in many cases, we have established that the heat pump is set up correctly and is using a reasonable amount of electricity for the house type and insulation levels. Deeper investigation has often identified that the use of supplementary electric heating, or excessively long showers, or more unusual reasons such as outdoor heated swimming pools and even in one case, an electric pottery kiln, are the source of the higher-than-expected bills. These are good learning opportunities for the household to understand how they can use energy more effectively and save money

Over the course of the project, we confirmed an issue that we had previously identified: there is also a serious lack of qualified and experienced heat pump installers. We have come across several cases where a heat pump has been incorrectly installed and has even been left in a dangerous condition; the low standards of installation in these cases have led to high costs, cold homes and heating systems that were not working at all Apart from the immediate impacts, this also leads to a lack of trust in heat pump technology at a point where we need to build confidence.

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Types of advice and common themes

Concerns about banning mains gas heating

There were concerns raised with us that mains gas boilers were going to be removed from people’s houses or that they could not replace them after the Government announced the ban on gas boilers in new build properties. People were very reassured to learn that they would be able to keep their gas boilers once they understood what the Government’s proposals stated

We were contacted by people who had misinterpreted these announcements and had already removed their mains gas boilers, often replacing them with electric panel heaters. Subsequently, they had found that they could not afford to keep their houses warm, due to the higher costs of electricity, and so contacted us for guidance

General lack of installers and tradespeople

Lots of enquiries were received about finding reputable local installers to carry out work. Making recommendations is straightforward with fossil fuel heating systems and renewable energy installations, but for other measures such as internal wall insulation and room-in-roof insulation, there is a distinct shortage of skills We noted that the competent and experienced renewable energy installers that we would typically recommend are all extremely busy and so we had to manage clients’ expectations of how quickly they could get quotations.

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Types of advice and common themes

For other measures such as cavity wall insulation, the dramatic contraction of the domestic insulation market over the last decade has caused problems. We could only find a single reputable installer that is based in Devon who was willing to do work in Cornwall. Even where we know reputable installers, they too are often very busy with long lead times

People unable to pay their bills in the energy crisis

Towards the end of the project, there was a big uptake in the number of people looking to insulate their houses or install solar panels, because they could not afford to heat their houses with the increased energy prices and had to choose between heating and eating Further, we have grown concerned about the widening group of people who were saying that they were worried about the costs of keeping warm. Community Energy Plus has worked to support fuel poor households in Cornwall for 25 years and the recent rapid rise in energy and other household costs, has challenged households that previously would say that they could manage without help.

A consequence of this trend is that where household budgets are more constrained in managing the day-to-day costs, people are more reluctant to consider higher cost improvements to their homes and this is likely to slow the transition to low carbon technologies.

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Positive outcomes, successes and challenges

There is a general lack of understanding about how to retrofit houses in the most cost-effective way and adopt carbon minimising methods. This is often due to the large amount of often contradictory information available that is produced by product installers and manufacturers to sell their products, and people are unsure how it all fits together or what to believe

Our approach has been to put this information together in an impartial manner, in a way that that is readily understandable for our clients. Following this, a lot of people have taken away a clear understanding of their options going forward and have been more confident that they can avoid making poor decisions. This advice has led people to invest in low carbon measures including insulation, air source heat pumps and solar panels.

We have also been signposting to grants which have helped people install measures that they otherwise would not have been able to access or were unaware of what is available In particular, the Home Upgrade Grant administered by Cornwall Council has funded measures for nearly forty households, from of our referrals. We have also been referring to the Boiler Upgrade Scheme for people wanting to install air source heat pumps and several ground source heat pumps.

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Positive outcomes, successes and challenges

The largest challenge we found to the uptake of low carbon measures is the cost of installing them, apart from loft insulation and cavity wall insulation, which is considerably cheaper than other forms of insulation, although still too expensive for some households Many households just do not have enough spare capital to invest in the retrofit of their homes and for those that do, the limited savings the measures produce make it financially undesirable to do so without third-party funding to cover a significant amount of the initial outlay.

We initially aimed to support more able-to-pay households than we did. This change was partly because of having to manage the high numbers of calls we received during the project period, but it also highlights the need to think about how to target marketing of advice services to households that are more likely to have the financial resources and desire to invest in their houses Among the able-to-pay households we supported, we found very few were willing to pay for the advice we were offering. So, although there is demand and need for this service, we cannot currently see a commercial prospect for this advice service, but will continue to explore this avenue.

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Quantitative summary

Clients advised: 138 household visits delivered in person or virtually

1,426 distinct households advised

Annual project savings: £39,000 costs saved

443,000 kWh energy saved

207 people reached via workshop or talks

106,500 kg

CO₂ carbon emissions saved

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Quantitative summary

Rural/Urban split:

Types of heating system:

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Percentageofclients 0 10 20 30 Mainsgas Oil Electricstorageheaters Electricpanelheaters Solidfuelstove Heatpump None BottledLPG BulkLPG Solidfuel-openfire Biomassboiler 30% 20% 16% 11% 5% 4% 4% 4% 3% 2% 1% 71% rural 29% urban
Quantitative summary Page 14 Measures installed: Quantityofmeasures 0 10 20 30 40 50 SolarPV Loftinsulation AirSourceheatpump Cavitywallinsulation Externalwallinsulation Internalwallinsulation 48 39 21 11 1 2

Quantitative summary

Types of properties supported:

Percentageoftypeofproperty 0 10 20 30 40 50 Detached Semi-detached Midterrace Endterrace Flat Page 15
43% 29% 19% 7% 3%

Quantitative summary

Percentage of properties by wall type 0 10 20 30 40 50 Cavity wall Solid stone Brick Timber frame System built Page 16 Wall types: 50% 34% 8% 6% 2%

Quantitative summary

Percentageofpropertiesbyinsulationtype 0 20 40 60 Noinsulation Filledcavity Insulated(methodunknown) Partialinsulation Internalwallinsulation Externalwallinsulation Page 17
52% 24% 5% 2% 1% 16%
Wall Insulation overall:

Quantitative summary

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Percentage of properties by cavity wall type 0 25 50 75 Insulated cavity Uninsulated cavity 75% 25%
Cavity walls:

Quantitative summary

Solid walls:

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Percentageofpropertiesbysolidwalltype 0 25 50 75 100 Uninsulatedsolidwall Insulatedsolidwall(methodunknown) Internalinsulatedsolidwall Externallyinsulatedsolidwall 91% 4% 4% 2%

Conclusion

The Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project allowed Community Energy Plus to widen its energy advice service provision and to address the concerns of householders wanting to start the transition to low carbon technologies. There has been a long standing and growing demand for this type of energy advice service, and so the funding from Energy Redress allowed us to respond to the identified need and to establish a targeted service, with experienced advisers with the requisite technical knowledge of the new technologies.

Amongst the Community Energy Plus team, we have frequently commented that although we talk about solar PV and heat pumps every day, and we are very familiar with the jargon and technical language for these technologies, for most people looking for advice, these technologies are new and an unknown quantity Individuals who are planning improvements do not yet have a network of neighbours, friends and family with similar experience that they can draw from; this impacts the levels of confidence and trust placed in suppliers and installers. The Energy Advice sector faces a significant task in this field educating and building confidence in the wider population

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Conclusion

As part of the project delivery, as identified in our original bid, we planned to explore options to develop this into a self-funded service. However, it quickly became clear that apart from the occasional, wealthier client, most of our enquiries came from households that were reluctant to pay for the impartial expertise that they needed. As yet, the market is not sufficiently developed where advice services are recognised as a valuable part of the

decision process, and in which, clients are willing to invest in advice and guidance before making decisions about upgrades and improvements. The consequence of this is that as an Energy Advice provider, for the foreseeable future we will need to continue look for grant funding to enable this service to develop

We are very grateful to the Energy Redress funding programme and the team at Energy Saving Trust for supporting us during the delivery of the Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project.

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What next?

We have chosen not to submit a bid for continuation funding to Energy Redress at this point This is primarily because other elements of Community Energy Plus' fuel poverty work need to take priority in bids to Energy Redress, which only permits one bid in each round to either the main fund or the Decarbonisation fund. We are in the process of identifying other funding opportunities to allow us to continue this necessary work:

Energy Redress

In the most recent round of the Redress Decarbonisation funding, our colleagues at Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network (WREN) have made a submission for funding for a Low Carbon Energy Adviser to work in the Wadebridge area. Their bid is based on a recommendation we made to them which aims to expand the network of energy advisers in Cornwall with experience in low carbon technologies. Our recommendation was closely based on the experience and knowledge we gathered during our delivery of the Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project

LEAD

We were recently delighted to learn that we will be able to build upon the Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project, as we are part of the Far South West Retrofit project that has had funding confirmed by the South West Net Zero Hub’s Local Energy Advice Demonstrator. We will be working with partners in Devon to further develop the work we are doing collectively in this space, and the lessons we have learned through the Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project will directly contribute to shaping that delivery programme.

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What next?

National Lottery Climate Action Fund

We are currently developing a bid to National Lottery’s Climate Action Fund to further expand the work of the Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project; our intention is to replicate and extend the work of the Sustainable Homes Advice Cornwall project with a network of advisers strategically placed across Cornwall, collaborating with several of the established community energy and climate action groups in Cornwall. We see this as a vehicle to both strengthen these groups and to use their localised engagement to build a network of trusted expertise across all of Cornwall We have already started delivering this type of work in our collaboration with the Bude Climate Partnership’s Resilient Bude project and hope to replicate this work elsewhere.

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COMMUNITY ENERGY PLUS

35 River Street, Truro, TR1 2SJ

Main Telephone: 01872 245566

Website: www.cep.org.uk

General enquiries: advice@cep.org.uk

Company registration number 03533571

Charity registration number 1068990

Images: The images contained in this report are from Community Energy Plus' collection or from stock images from Canva.com

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