27 January 2021

Ma Prime Renov’: a good stimulus?

Ma Prime Renov’ is a building energy renovation aid extended to all French households since 11th January, 2021 in the scope of the government’s economic restart plan. Introduced in 2020 in its limited version, the plan sets out to simplify aid measures and universalize energy renovation.
What’s the verdict one year after its launch? Can its expanded eligibility boost energy renovation in France? A financial aid adviser at the coalface, Ellie Ambrosino of the Rhône department’s “Espace Info Energie”, airs her views.

Ellie Ambrosino, of the Rhône
department’s “Espace Info Energie”

What advantages does Ma Prime Renov’ hold over the two schemes it replaces, namely the tax credit and the National Housing Agency’s “Habiter mieux agilité” programme?

First of all, it combines two measures in one thus reducing red tape (to an extent). Next, it gets the money to the households much more quickly, at worst as soon as the work is finished. Those were two key issues prior to Ma Prime Renov’. But it doesn’t cover the full range of aids that can be sought—like Energy Economy Certificates or local authority grants—so putting a project together is still quite a complicated business for households, and that’s where local information platforms have their role to play. Organizations like ours provide technical and administrative advice throughout the renovation project. 

In 2020, the National Housing Agency in charge of Ma Prime Renov’ funding announced it had processed 120,000 applications. To bring all homes up to low-carbon standards by 2050, however, 700,000 renovations a year are needed. Is that a realistic prospect?

There’s no denying it’s a very ambitious objective, especially with the energy performance bar set so high!  As far as I can see, Ma Prime Renov’ is already showing its limits in the quest for true widespread deployment of energy renovation. Why?
First, a lot more money may have been pumped into the scheme, but the aids themselves aren’t any bigger, leaving many project initiators disappointed. The CITE tax credit, for example, was a stronger financial carrot in the case of higher-income homes.
Next, although the stated objective is to favour projects involving total renovation, the funding logic is inadequate. To give an example, to qualify for the “total renovation” subsidy, energy savings of 55% must be evidenced. Now, imagine a house changing from oil-fired heating to a heat pump and installing loft insulation: that in itself should be enough to meet the objective without laying a finger on the rest of the building envelope, which will continue leaking heat as much as ever. Another inhibiting factor is that for some categories of beneficiary, cherry picking aids represents a better pay-off than going for the total renovation pot.
On a different front, the extension of Ma Prime Renov’ eligibility to landlords is not coupled with an undertaking on rental prices, as was the case with previous aids. It could therefore prove a boon to landlords to the detriment of tenants.

The government has begun a two-year experiment whereby contractors without environmental accreditation (“RGE”) can obtain public aids like MaPrimeRenov for their customers. 

A sharp decrease in the number of RGEs (Reconnu Garant de l’Environnement) has been observed in recent times, notably due to bad workmanship but also because jobbing firms find the certification process laborious and off-putting. This makes it harder and harder for households to find contractors able to carry out their energy renovation at short notice. 
With this measure, contractors will be able to conduct renovation work and obtain qualification in a specialist area, e.g., extraction system installation or external wall insulation, after regular inspection of the work they have carried out.
This 2-year experiment should help ease the market a little and allow companies who are contemplating RGE approval but aren’t ready to take the plunge to get a foothold. If a contractor has three energy renovation test projects validated by satisfactory audits over two years, their RGE application file will be almost complete.

What’s your global analysis of the measures implemented to stimulate energy renovation?

The state-introduced measures and the funds allocated are consequential, so we’ll see how well that works out with use; it’s too early to judge for now. It’s also worth pointing out local authority efforts in setting up renovation advice and assistance platforms. Since 2015 in Lyon Métropole, the Ecoréno’v service has had a hand in renovating over 16,000 homes, 10,000 of them in apartment blocks, to high standards of energy performance at a cost of €340m or so. One of the Ecoréno’v service’s strengths is the assistance, both technical and administrative, it offers to project initiators. The magnitude of the energy performance issue in buildings is such that mobilization at all levels is vital.

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