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Large-scale energy retrofit requires a decade of political certainty and public funding

19 May 2021

Energy use in buildings is a sector with large potential for energy efficiency improvement, both internationally and nationally. 

To generate the level of retrofit needed to meet net zero, supply chains both in the UK and abroad will need to significantly expand to meet demand.  

However, there are barriers in the way supply chains operate that make it particularly difficult to initiate lasting change, such as the division of labour between trades.  No country has yet overcome these barriers fully, but there is evidence of promising small-scale initiatives that begin to address them. 

The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) therefore welcomes the publication today by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) of the International Review of Domestic Retrofit Supply Chains report

This report looks at different approaches to domestic energy efficiency retrofit supply chain development across the globe, including the US Better Buildings Neighborhood Program (BBNP), and BetterHome (in Denmark) and Energiesprong (originating in the Netherlands). The research was carried out by ACE Research (part of the ADE) The Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, Ballarat Consulting and Innoweaver Ltd. 

Whilst there is no single country that is delivering buildings energy retrofit at the scale needed, the research did find exemplar projects which the UK could learn to help generate consumer demand for deep retrofit and to scale up energy efficiency investment in the UK.  

The research suggests that the development of a self-sustaining, large-scale market for deep energy efficiency retrofit requires support from a stable policy framework over a significant period of time – perhaps a decade or more – together with sustained public funding. 

Active engagement from the financial sector is also vital. The sector can increase the provision of finance and incentivise action through lower cost finance propositions. It can also play an important role in raising awareness about the benefits of energy retrofit and linking consumers with supply chain offers.   

Consumers are of course central to increasing demand for retrofit.  The research found that, as well as increasing awareness and understanding of the available options, establishing and maintaining consumers’ trust in the supply chain is essential. 

Relevant training and skills are also necessary for retrofit works to be delivered to a high standard. The research found that, internationally, large scale, centrally driven training programmes to develop the necessary skills for delivery are generally lacking. This is a particular issue in the UK where there are no formal entry requirements for construction jobs and the sector is very fragmented, with work largely being undertaken by separate trades. There means is no motivation or need to 'upskill' in order to undertake retrofits, and customers are not asking for it. Policies that do not recognise this aspect of the supply chain are unlikely to be sustainable. 

Kelly Greer, Head of ACE Research at the ADE said:

“Our research reveals that while there is still some way to go in understanding how to achieve large-scale expansion and financial stability for energy retrofit, what is clear is that generating homeowner demand for deep retrofits and developing the supply chain to meet this can take many years. 

“Whether a retrofit policy framework is developed around climate change, fuel poverty or economic stimulus drivers, the government must take a long-term view to help build a successful, self-sustaining approach to retrofit. The evaluation of the US Better Buildings Neighborhood Program (BBNP) suggested that a funded programme of its scale would need to run for up to 10 years to build a self-sustaining market." 

Dr Joanne Wade OBE, Chief Strategic Advisor at the ADE, said:

“Schemes and new market approaches are tackling the issue of trust by using co-ordinators or contract managers who provide initial advice to a householder, connect them with quality assured installers, help them through the whole retrofit process and, in some cases, quality check the work. This not only builds greater trust, it can improve the householder’s overall experience of the whole retrofit process. 

“A strong message that came out of the research is the need to change the way contractors and advisors talk to households about energy efficiency. People are not interested in ‘energy efficiency’ itself, but they are excited by the benefits that it can deliver: a beautiful, healthy home; physical comfort; and perhaps also low energy costs or a more sustainable home." 

Fiona Brocklehurst, Ballarat Consulting said:

“Discussions around training needs tend to focus on the technical skills required to ensure quality installation of measures.  This is vital, but, business development and consumer liaison skills are also important in both growing demand in this market and ensuring a positive customer experience."    


About the ADE and ACE Research 

The ADE is bringing energy together to advocate on the priorities for the UK in achieving net zero.

We are driving the decarbonisation of heat, championing the role of industry in the green transition and pushing for UK homes, places of work and public services to be energy efficient and smart.

Only by getting users engaged and investing in energy efficiency, low carbon heat and providing smart flexibility will be the UK truly be able to decarbonise its energy system. For this to happen, energy must work for the user.

At the ADE, we believe that an energy system designed around the user’s needs, enabling the right technology choice in the right place, serves everyone better.

The research team at the ADE - ACE Research - has a strong reputation for high quality work in the areas of policy research and evaluation, specifically in respect to frameworks for implementing national, regional and local energy policy in buildings, barriers to and opportunities for effective implementation and the roles of different stakeholders therein. 

Spokespeople available for interview and presentations: 

Dr Joanne Wade (Chief Strategic Advisor, the Association for Decentralised Energy) has over 30 years’ experience working on UK and EU energy efficiency policy and practice, contributing to numerous research projects during her career. She Chairs the Advisory Board for CREDS and the UKERC Research Committee, and is Vice President of the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (eceee).  

Kelly Greer (Head of Research, the Association for Decentralised Energy) is a social researcher with over 18 years’ experience in sustainability, fuel poverty and carbon reduction sectors. Kelly leads the independently funded research team at the ADE. Kelly previously worked for a major UK supplier to promote and deliver energy saving schemes through the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO), a role which required active engagement with the energy efficiency supply chain.   

Related ADE publications 

For further information please contact: 

Lucy Symons- Jones, Head of External Affairs, The ADE, Tel: +44 (0)7 906 445 775, 


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