On the windy rooftop of a tower block in the heart of Tower Hamlets, the Energy Secretary is hard at work in a hardhat.
When ELN arrives, Ed Davey is hearing all about… abseiling.
Men dropping themselves down the side of 15-floor buildings may not sound like the obvious way to insulate them.
But the company which is carrying out the insulation work, Avalon, says it’s a much cheaper and quicker way to get the job done than using scaffolding – weather permitting that, is.
On the December morning the Lib Dem politician is shown around the flats, it’s too windy for a demonstration of the abseiling technique which has seen Avalon pump a foam-based mixture into the walls of thousands of buildings around London.
But Davey is enthusiastic about the benefits: “Some of these tower blocks were built in the Fifties and Sixties and they’re not very well insulated. So these new programmes are enabling the tenants to have much better quality of life, warmer homes and cheaper bills.”
The same morning, Davey had just announced a milestone in a Coalition scheme which demands suppliers put insulation in the homes of the poorest and vulnerable people, called ECO or the Energy Company Obligation. Along with its sister scheme, the much-maligned Green Deal, it has put one million energy saving measures from loft insulation to better boilers into British homes. ECO is responsible for the lion’s share of this.
The Tower Hamlets Project is part of ECO and is worth more than £1 million according to EDF Energy which is funding the work. It’s a deal done with Tower Hamlets Homes, the group which manages housing services for Tower Hamlets Council.
Around 500 homes in four neighbourhoods across the borough, one of the most deprived in London, will benefit from this particular scheme once work is done by March 2016.
Looking out over the city’s jumbled skyline, Darren Peacock, a director at Avalon Sustainable Energy Solutions told ELN he can spot numerous buildings to benefit from their rope-access, cavity wall insulation work.
This project, 20 tower blocks, is just a fraction of what they have carried out around the capital: “We’ve done about 1,700 tower blocks in London alone, this year we’ve done our 30,000th flat.”
And where scaffolding a 15-storey building would take seven weeks, with abseiling it can be done in five or six days. Peacock says this reduces the cost “dramatically”, by as much as 70%.
But it’s a tough time for the insulation industry. With Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to “roll back” green levies and trim £50 off household bills, the ECO was squeezed. The Green Deal has gone from problem to problem.
There are other pressures too, says Peacock: “It’s very challenging… as an SME we’ve got about 40 abseilers that work with us and with the changes in funding that’s obviously happened over the last few months and changes in the obligation, it’s dramatically dropped the carbon rates which is affecting us as a business.”
But he is cheery and resolved: “We’re hanging on in there as abseilers, excuse the pun!”
Tour over, interviews dusted off, Davey thanks the team who showed him around the rooftop, which offers panoramic views including the Shard and the Olympic stadium.
Tower Hamlets trip is sure to be a great story, and one million insulation measures a great statistic, to mention during election season.