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Weekly column by EUA's Chief Executive Mike Foster

Some people believe the car industry has been very successful at working with Government to achieve environmental targets and have said to me that the heating industry should look to copy their success. In light of the revelations about Volkswagen, and who knows where the story will go next, this lead is perhaps one we shouldn't rush to follow. I know of senior people at the Committee of Climate Change who use the case of the Vehicle Excise Duty as the trigger to nudge drivers into "good behaviour". Two things now leap out. Firstly, the data that is used to "prove" efficiency a) doesn't because it applies to test conditions only and b) it looks like dodgy data now Volkswagen have been found out. Secondly, in setting carbon dioxide as a target the policy encouraged an uptake of diesel cars, whilst more economical they do give out a much higher and more dangerous level of harmful emissions giving much poorer air quality.

But there are lessons for the heating industry. Firstly, data derived from test conditions may not reflect real world outcomes. Just as you never achieve the MPG figures when driving, homes will not achieve the energy bill (and emission) reductions that a test house suggests. This is not a bad thing, a more efficient boiler may enable a homeowner to heat more rooms or live more comfortably, whilst paying the same for their heating. Secondly, when making a case to policymakers we should be using "real data" where we have it. EUA make a point of doing so in its submissions to Government. We do so because we want decisions to be sensible and importantly, give outcomes as we predict. Much better to over achieve, than over promise.

There is also a lesson about "controlled norms" used in test conditions. These norms need to be realistic, not a straw man set up to show unrealistic levels of success. Failure to do so, risks making the industry look silly in the eyes of critical policymakers and therefore question what might be valid arguments. As an example, I know some in our industry who claim a 40 per cent saving on heating bills by fitting product X but it is based on the "controlled scenario" being unrealistic. It isn't clever and given Volkswagen's problems, the sooner it stops the better. 

Best wishes, 

Mike Foster CE

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