The government's incentives for homeowners to cut emissions is a good start – but it's just the start

The government’s announcement of the Greener Boiler incentive scheme is welcome news for anyone interested in reducing energy waste and cutting carbon emissions. But it is just a starting point and much more needs to be done.

Based on a detailed analysis of real Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) issued for homes marketed for sale, we know that a boiler upgrade is recommended for almost two-thirds (63%) of properties. The vast majority of these (92%) recommend replacing an existing gas boiler, whilst the remainder are oil and LPG.

Well over a third (37%) of the gas boilers where a replacement was recommended were G-rated. In practice, most of these boilers do not exist on the national database of boiler efficiencies (SEDBUK) - thankfully their manufacture and sale stopped before the database was established. So the rating is the appropriate SAP default, based on the age and style of boiler.

The potential savings from replacing such old and inefficient boilers are substantial. Based on our analysis, the average potential savings from replacing a G-rated gas boiler with an A-rated one is a cut in CO2 emissions of 1.29 tonnes per year and a saving in fuel costs of £161 per year. That saving is based on current SAP fuel prices and assumptions – the savings will be greater for those living in colder, windier or higher parts of the country and the savings will increase as fuel prices rise.

Whilst oil and LPG boilers are much less common, the potential savings from replacement are even greater. Indeed the average savings from replacing a G-rated oil boiler are more than £500 per year in fuel costs and over 4.1 tonnes of CO2.

Dramatic savings, so any scheme that encourages the replacement of these old, wasteful boilers has to be welcomed. But we have concerns that the incentive scheme may prove more effective as a headline than as a measure which will make a significant contribution to the challenge of realising the full scale of the potential savings.

Our first concern is the limited scale of the programme. Assuming the properties being marketed for sale are indicative of the wider owner-occupied housing stock – a reasonable assumption – the EPC data suggests there are some 3.5 million homes with G-rated boilers. A further 1.9 million or so are F-rated, which is not a great deal better. What is needed are programmes which will ensure that over the next few years the overwhelming majority of these boilers are replaced. A programme aiming to replace just 125,000 – whilst welcome – is just scratching the surface.

We also have concerns that the boiler may be replaced without associate improvements in insulation, lighting and controls being considered. This would be a real missed opportunity. Given the scale of the emission savings that need to be achieved, it is critical to implement a framework that will ensure the full range of improvement measures are implemented – not just pursue a easy headline.

Homeowners – especially when they first move in – are interested in improving the energy efficiency of their homes and that most of those who receive the EPC are reading it and taking note of the recommendations. But they need more support from the expert energy assessors who prepared the EPC to help them get the right mix of measures installed and to access the full range of incentives available.

The figures above come from a report NES has just released. Seizing the Opportunity highlights the savings that could be achieved when homes are bought and sold simply by implementing the recommendations in EPC – an opportunity that is currently being largely missed.

The report analysed more than 300,000 EPC issued by members of the NHER accreditation scheme for energy assessors for homes marketed for sales. The average savings across all of these homes was a cut of 1.2 tonnes in CO2 emissions per year and a reduction of £182 per year in fuel bills. Crucially, these savings come from familiar, cost-effective measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation and heating system improvements – the latter contributing most of the total potential savings. The report also looked at the reactions to the EPC of more than 300 households who had recently moved home and the extent to which the recommendations were being acted on.

For the first time, the report provides concrete evidence of the potential savings and shows positive signs that the EPC is starting to make a difference. But it also highlights concerns that existing measures are allowing the opportunity to go to waste.

We make seven proposals – including a suggestion of a heating system scrappage scheme – which we believe can help to make a real difference. They demand a greater level of ambition and a willingness to use a range of levers and to recognise the need to take an integrated approach and to plan further ahead than next May.

Announcing the Greener Boiler incentive scheme is a good start, but if the government really wish to cut wasted energy and excessive emissions and maximise the economic benefit, they will work with the energy assessor industry and leverage the EPC to ensure that the incentives are as effective as possible and the savings achieved are maximised. This is the time for the sovernment to Seize the Opportunity.