Energy Bill

Memorandum submitted by Sustainable Uist (EN 38)


Sustainable Uist is a Climate Change organisation based in the southern Outer Hebrides. It is undertaking research into solutions which will deliver the most cost effective energy saving measures into older ‘Hard to Treat’ houses on the islands in one of the most challenging environments in Britain.

Due to a combination of environmental and other socio-economic factors, the Hebrides experience some of the highest, if not the highest rates of Fuel Poverty in the UK.

The ECO fund proposed by the Government to support energy efficiency measures for priority householder groups and Hard to Treat properties will be applied on a UK wide basis.

Sustainable Uist believes that, if the additional support to improve energy efficiency in these types of houses from the ECO fund is to be fairly distributed, awards to houses in remote northern areas of Britain will have to be weighted to ensure a fair ‘playing field’ for domestic energy consumption and cost.

1. Summary

1. The Western Isles in Scotland experience one of the highest, if not the highest rates of Fuel Poverty in the UK – 58% of all households.

2. The reasons for this are partly socio-economic, partly geographic, partly historic and partly related to the challenging climate.

3. Around 30% of homes on Uist (Southern Hebrides) have a SAP rating less than 50. Many of these are classified as ‘Hard to Treat’ and were not eligible for measures under the Home Insulation Scheme initiative in 2010. Many are occupied by elderly people on low incomes.

4. With the UK Government’s Green Deal initiative stating in 2012 there is an imminent opportunity to improve the energy efficiency of Uist HtT housing.

5. Sustainable Uist is carrying out a series of projects during 2011-12 aimed at accurately identifying the numbers of HtT houses on the islands and what types of heating and insulation measures should be used to bring them up to an acceptable standard.

6. Because of the higher costs of building on the islands, and the need to achieve a higher standard of energy efficiency than normal because of the challenging climate, significant support from the proposed national ECO fund will be required if proposals to improve HtT houses are to meet the Green Deal ‘Golden Rule’.

7. Sustainable Uist proposes to conclude its research by identifying what extra level of support is required from the ECO fund to deliver equal standards of home energy efficiency at the same cost to householders.

8. Sustainable Uist proposes that one way to put home energy efficiency onto a level playing field across the UK is to establish a regional system of requirements and financial support which accounts for local fuel availability and price and environmental conditions.

2. Introduction

Sustainable Uist is a Climate Challenge Fund funded organisation based in the southern islands of the Outer Hebrides (Western Isles). It is engaged in a series of CO2 reduction projects relating to food, transport, waste, renewable energy and housing. It has a membership of 120 and five full time staff.

During 2010/11 the organisation completed a piece of preliminary research into ‘Hard to Treat’ (HtT) houses on the islands of the Uist group in the Western Isles (Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay). During 2011/12 it is carrying out a second phase of HtT research based on house surveys, testing of measures in four pilot projects, and a review of domestic heating systems.

The islands of Uist have a population of around 4,000, and there are just over 2,600 dwelling houses in use. Around 58% of all households are classified by the Local Authority (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, (CnES)) as being in fuel poverty [1] .

3. Home Insulation Scheme and Research 2010-11

In 2010/11 the islands of Uist were the subject of a Home Insulation Scheme (HIS) initiative funded by the Scottish Government and organised by the Energy Saving Trust. Although some 450 houses received measures through that scheme, the Sustainable Uist research indicated that around 750 island houses missed out on HIS measures because of their form of construction – those with solid walls and/or rooms in the roof with coombed ceilings, and known generically as Hard to Treat (HtT). It was also concluded that around 200 homes did not have double glazing and around 1000 would benefit significantly from floor insulation.

The Final Report of results of that research can be accessed at the Sustainable Uist website at this link here:

The report concluded that although it is likely that measures do exist to remedy the fabric deficiencies of the islands’ HtT homes, it would be difficult to:

a) decide which measure was best for any given situation, including renewable energy (RE) installations.

b) accurately predict the cost of installing any particular measure or RE system.

c) accurately predict what energy/financial savings would accrue once a particular measure had been installed

d) as a result, accurately predict the cost/benefit result of any combination of measures, including whether the Green Deal Golden Rule provision could be met.

The reasons for these uncertainties were due to the unusual (though not unique) circumstances existing on Uist when compared with typical areas of mainland Britain. These include:

a) Different building traditions;

b) Extreme climate where low average temperatures and high average wind speeds result in greater heat losses from buildings;

c) Higher building costs – especially when using specialist contractors from the mainland;

d) Higher heating fuel costs;

e) No mains gas and 50% of households using oil and 30% electricity as their main form of heating fuel;

f) Lack of information about the performance of micro-renewable energy installations in the extreme marine climate;

4. Home Insulation Scheme and Research 2011-12

In order to gain a better understanding of these issues, Sustainable Uist is now undertaking a second year of research into the Uist HtT housing problem with advice and support from the following organisations and companies:

· Climate Challenge Fund

· Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

· Energy Saving Trust

· Changeworks


· Historic Scotland

· Kingspan Insulation Ltd

· Sto Ltd

· Scottish and Southern Energy

· Scottish Gas

· Napier University

The research is in three main parts:

1. A series of four pilot projects where different energy efficiency measures will be installed in different house types and their performance measured.

2. A survey of around 200 island HtT houses to provide precise information about their construction and energy performance so that the scale and nature of the HtT problem can be understood.

3. A survey of all of the installed micro renewable energy powered heating systems in the Hebrides which will provide information on their installation cost and performance in relation to future use in domestic properties.

5. The Western Isles Domestic Heating Energy Context

According to the latest published data [2] , the Western Isles experience one of the highest rates of fuel poverty in Scotland (and probably the UK).

Leaving aside the question of incomes, the reason for this situation in the southern Western Isles is believed to be a combination of the following factors:

1. Energy prices

a) Lack of access to mains gas.

b) Higher fuel prices (except electricity) because of extra transport costs and a lack of competition.

2. Home Energy Efficiency

a) A long term legacy of poor, low energy-efficient housing despite significant Council expenditure on housing improvements (£50m since 1975).

b) HEC survey data from 2010 in Uist shows 8% of all houses with a SAP rating less than 25 and 35% less than 50.

c) A high proportion of ‘Hard to Treat’ homes built with solid stone or concrete walls and rooms in the roof which have not been able to benefit from the recent Home Insulation Scheme initiative – estimated to be around 15-20% of all island homes.

d) A challenging climate, related particularly to low average temperatures and particularly high average wind speeds.

e) Low capital value of houses, especially on Uist, which are about half those on the adjoining mainland. This both lowers the incentive and inhibits the ability of householders to self-fund energy efficiency improvements.

Of these factors, the only one that can be directly influenced by householders themselves is improving the energy efficiency of their home. It is the potential for self-help in this area, especially with the imminent Green Deal scheme, that is driving the Sustainable Uist HtT project.

However because it is accepted that improving the energy efficiency of HtT houses costs significantly more than non HtT properties, and the associated difficulty of meeting the Green Deal Golden Rule, there is the chance there will be little progress in improving HtT properties (which are often linked to Fuel Poverty), unless the additional support funding from the ECO Fund is made widely available.

6. Commentary

6.1 Focus of Energy Efficiency Support

From research carried out last year Sustainable Uist believes that there is clear evidence that support for home energy efficiency resources is being mainly directed on the easiest ways to reduce carbon emissions to help meet the challenging carbon reduction targets. Thus in the recent Home Insulation Scheme, a middle income family living in a modern home would have their loft insulation topped up at minimal costs, whilst an 83 year old widow living on a state pension, in an uninsulated old house with a peat fired Rayburn and old fashioned electric storage radiators as her heat sources, received nothing.

This situation seems to be a simple a reflection of government policy priorities and the commercial imperative for the energy companies funding the schemes. It also seems very unfair.

6.2 Real Cost Effectiveness of Measures

There is no currently reliable data for the cost effectiveness of different available measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes in the Western Isles. This is the purpose of the Sustainable Uist HtT research project this year. Results will be available by March 2012.

6.3 Regional Variations in Domestic Energy Needs

This lack of cost effectiveness data for measures is exacerbated by the very different environmental conditions in say the Isle of Wight and the Outer Hebrides. Sustainable Uist estimates that for the identical house, used in the identical way, the increased heating energy demand to achieve the same level of comfort in the Hebrides could be as high as 20% in relation to average temperatures and 100% in relation to air leakage. A paper is being prepared on this question and should be available by August 2011.

6.4 Regional Variations in Domestic Energy Costs

Mains gas is acknowledged to be the most efficient and most economic way of heating a home in the UK. Uist has no mains gas and, with the exception of electricity, all other fuels are around 10% higher than in typical mainland locations. This is due to extra transport costs and limited competition between suppliers. Green Fuels such as timber are simply not available – there are few trees of any size on Uist.

7. Proposals

7.1 Sustainable Uist believes that in the future, housing energy efficiency standards on which financial support for improvements is calculated, should be set on a regional rather than a national basis.

7.2 These standards for home insulation and heating efficiency will take into account local environmental and fuel price conditions. Thus, those experiencing more challenging weather or higher fuel prices, would be set a higher standard than elsewhere.

7.3 Every house in the country needs to be individually and properly assessed as to its energy efficiency. This needs to be carried out at a local level and using a different system to SAP and HEC which do not necessarily provide the detailed and accurate results needed to decide exactly what measures need to be undertaken and at what cost.

7.4 All houses in that region need to be brought up to the minimum standard. Clearly priority for this work needs to be given to vulnerable groups of all kinds.

7.5 Once this is achieved there is a level playing field for all households, and the theory would be that for a given level of home comfort in a given size of home, everyone across Britain would expect to pay the same cost for heating.

7.6 With that established, households will understand that when it comes to energy costs, the size of their energy bills is entirely their own responsibility.

8. Outcomes expected from Uist HtT Research in 2011-12

During the coming year Sustainable Uist aims to:

a) Set a fair energy efficiency standard for houses on the islands based on local conditions.

b) Carry out detailed survey work in 200 HtT houses to establish exactly what measures need to be undertaken to bring them up to that standard.

c) In the same survey establish exactly what proportion of household income is spent on home energy and the proportion of HtT households experiencing Fuel Poverty.

d) Test a series of insulation measures in real housing situations to understand exactly how they perform in relation to their cost.

e) On completion of the survey and testing, establish by analysis how much additional financial support for installing measures in Uist HtT houses is required to:

1. Ensure that the Green Deal can work here

2. Ensure that all British households have fair and equitable energy bills

This is a real project based on real houses, real people, real weather, and real fuel prices. It should provide interesting and valuable results.

June 2011

[1] Comhairle nan Eilean Siar: Socio Economic Update no 17 : April 2011.

[2] Ibid

Prepared 22nd June 2011