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How Low?

Achieving optimal carbon savings from the UK’s existing housing stock

(commissioned by WWF)

The UK’s poorly insulated, energy inefficient housing stock could be easily transformed into cheaper to run, low carbon homes by the end of the next decade. But this report commissioned by WWF-UK and prepared by ACE, the Centre for Sustainable Energy and Dr Richard Moore, shows that without a radical shift in Government policy the UK is set to miss out on the biggest opportunity to cut household energy bills, and reduce CO2 emissions. The first ever modelling of the country’s entire housing stock shows that solid wall insulation and low and zero carbon technologies such as ground source heat pumps and solar water heating are key to greening our homes and getting the UK on track to meet its emission reduction targets for 2020.

The report was launched on March 31 in the House of Lords’ Attlee Room, with keynote speeches given by Housing Minister Caroline Flint and WWF-UK’s Chief Executive David Nussbaum.

Simon McWhirter, WWF-UK One Planet Future Campaign Manager said: “Our homes are the low hanging fruit in terms of achieving the deep cuts we need in carbon emissions but the Government is currently investing inadequate resources in inappropriate places. Its short term vision as to what energy efficiency measures should be applied to our existing stock is leading to significant missed opportunities.”

Current Government policy is heavily reliant upon homeowners installing measures it defines as ‘cost-effective’. These include cavity wall, loft, and hot water cylinder insulation, draught proofing, efficient boilers, and heating controls. Uptake of these measures has been historically poor in the UK and Alistair Darling’s 2008 Budget notably omitted to include any financial incentives which could encourage their wider take up by homeowners. WWF’s How Low report shows that even if all homes did install these measures, household CO2 emissions would be reduced by just 22 per cent, failing to meet the Government’s own 2020 climate change targets.

Colin Butfield, WWF-UK Head of Campaigns said: “Given the urgency of the issue the Government needs to look beyond the short payback energy efficiency measures that feature in current policy and focus on a broader package of measures that will provide greater long term savings for homeowners. Channelling support and resources into low and zero carbon technology to facilitate their roll-out nationwide will not only enable the UK to surpass its 2020 emission reduction targets but will further set us on track to reduce CO2 emissions by the necessary 80 per cent by 2050.”

housesNationwide installation of low and zero carbon technologies will require a significant programme of training, investment, and policy support by the Government but this will more than pay back, both in terms of increased efficiency of the housing stock, and a greater skilled workforce. In tandem with these support policies, it is vital that homeowners are provided financial support to help them afford the installation of technologies such as solar heating and ground source heat pumps.

WWF-UK urges the Government to introduce a range of financial incentives that will motivate more homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. These could include low interest loans, council tax rebates or stamp duty relief tied to home energy efficiency refurbishments, and robust feed-in tariffs which reward homeowners who generate their own electricity from micro-renewables. Some of these schemes have already been successfully introduced elsewhere in Europe.

There should also be a revision of the obligations on energy suppliers to ensure they support the roll out of solid wall insulation and low and zero carbon technologies.

The How Low? report concludes that it is feasible for the UK to meet CO2 emission reduction targets of 80 per cent in the domestic housing sector by 2050. To achieve this would require a rapid and extensive roll out of micro-renewables, the decarbonisation of electricity supply by roll-out of large-scale renewable energy projects and, potentially, application of carbon capture and storage technology. It would also require an improvement in the energy efficiency of appliances, and more carbon-conscious behaviour in the home. Whilst this does mean considerable extra investment now, it is minimal compared to the cost of doing nothing.

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