The Bonfield Review: Better late than never?

December 19, 2023

The Bonfield Review – Each Home Counts, snuck out last week to as much fanfare as you could expect on a Friday afternoon a week before Christmas. The outcomes of Dr Peter Bonfield’s review have been long awaited. The much delayed report has been eagerly anticipated, but a quick reminder of the scope of the review is needed:

When choosing to install energy efficiency or renewable energy measures in their homes, consumers rely on a framework of standards to ensure that they are protected and get a good quality outcome.

…This review will draw together evidence in relation to weaknesses in the existing framework of standards and propose how it can be made more robust for consumers, while encouraging investment and promoting innovation.

The review will cover the following issues:

  • Consumer advice and protection: what supports consumers’ decisions ahead of an installation and what assistance is available when things go wrong?
  • Standards framework: what ensures that the right products are fitted to the right properties in the right way during the installation?
  • Monitoring and enforcement: what ensures that poor quality work is dealt with effectively, and do the arrangements for audit, compliance-checking and sanctions provide sufficient assurance of this?

When these terms of reference were created in 2015 they were extremely clear and several issues are captured:

  • The performance gap – the need for design to actually deliver. Why am I not getting the savings or performance I was promised?
  • Consumer protection – have the measures installed been recommended because they are the most appropriate or because they make the biggest margin for the manufacturer or installer?
  • The skills gap – the construction industry has for years bemoaned the shortage of skills in the areas of energy efficiency and renewables – this has a real impact on the reputation of the industry and most importantly, energy efficiency
  • Standards – Is what is getting installed actually passing any standards? And if not what is being done about it?
  • Climate change – whilst low carbon and climate change are not mentioned in the terms of reference, energy efficiency is

Friday’s announcement was really something to celebrate. Not just the fact that it has got over the line, but that it actually recommends some things that need to be delivered. There is not the space to cover all 27 recommendations, but here we address the most important ones:

  1. Quality Mark – the establishment of a single quality mark for all energy efficiency and renewable energy measures (perhaps similar to that needed by Passivhaus experts and equipment) in conjunction with proper oversight of this
  2. Development of an Information Hub and Data Warehouse – an information hub for both consumers and industry to be developed for access to best practice on standards and guidance supported by a data warehouse allowing consumers to access better data relating to their homes, thereby leading to better advice
  3. New approaches to engaging with consumers – engaging the consumer base on renewables and energy efficiency through awareness raising at local and national levels
  4. Embedding core knowledge into the industry – including building physics, design stage and consumer interaction connected with the assessment of competence of businesses
  5. Compliance and enforcement regime - robust and joined-up industry-wide compliance and enforcement regime coordinated nationally to include on site monitoring or on site audits

The Baker Homes view

The Quality Mark is a good thing for the industry, but it must have weight. If properly backed by enforcement then it will work. If it leads to quality as in the form of the best Passivhaus schemes then it will work. If it simply becomes a badge for installers to win more work then the Bonfield Review will have been for nothing.

The flipside of this is the consumer with the recommendations putting a lot of onus on engagement. But given that until now engagement of consumers in energy efficiency hasn’t worked, what does this review propose to do that is different to ‘raise awareness’? Frankly the Government’s recent record of engaging consumers in this sphere haven’t been a success – the previous versions of ECO and RHI were too complex and the Green Deal’s numbers didn’t stack up. What engages consumers is simplicity and incentives – this needs to be kept in mind for any Quality Mark, standards or enforcement regime.

The report also identified the smart meter roll out as a key engagement point in any process of energy efficiency. However, there are issues over the success and future utility of smart meters – we have seen an erosion of faith in energy efficiency measures because of a lack of trust in key technologies. The desperate need to get our retrofit activity back on track needs to be associated with an initiative people have faith in.

The Review though has said some things that needed to be said – standards which have been slowly eroded since 2010 need to be central to any programme. Standards are nothing without enforcement and this is what has been sorely missing. ‘There’s no enforcement’ is a common complaint about building regulations and whilst those were not the focus of this review, we have seen decades’ worth of installations that have failed or that are on their way to failing with no evidence of how they were or should have been installed in the first place. The combination of both monitoring and enforcement are both welcome and should be the difference. All of which is moot without proper training with a recognised, robust qualifications. Organisations like the Retrofit Academy already provide this. Over time better qualifications and in project execution will mean that enforcement doesn’t become a burden and standards are simply accepted as the norm.

These are all part of the same interconnected web of quality, standards, skills, training, delivery, impact and evidence which will, if linked, lead back to quality. And this is what everyone wants - the industry, consumers and policy makers because this will breed trust in energy efficiency measures. The Bonfield Review has been eagerly awaited and can only be hoped that on approving publication, the Government is showing backing for the recommendations and the start of a more focused approach to the enormous challenge of retrofitting our built environment.

Bevan Jones

Bevan Jones

Bevan is the managing director of Baker Homes. Bevan’s areas of expertise are: Climate change adaptation | Climate change and business planning | Sustainable organisations | Carbon management | Sustainability strategy | Consultancy

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An excellent review Bevan, there is a long way to go but this has to be a step in the right direction, it is possibly the only step in the right direction as the majority of other drivers are being watered down or scrapped all together.

Interesting views on a fairly simple subject… Thermal efficiency… Passive Design probably the foremost of the requirements, understanding the effects of Uninsulated against Insulated foundations the next, Air changes via HVAC also comes high on the need list, Materials another, for instance 5/8″ cedar has a similar R value to a 4 ” brick. Orientation,, trees all add to the ambience & efficiency. Thermal Bridging and Stack Effect are others… Speak to most builders in the UK and they have very little knowledge of any of these requirements that help create thermal efficiency… No single item will create a thermally… Read more »