Fact-file: The Cold Man of Europe

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in ACE Research, Projects

Fuel poverty is a major social crisis in the UK. There are over five million households in fuel poverty needing to spend more than 10% of their income on energy in order to keep warm. This number will increase significantly if gas prices rise as the Government expects.

This fact-file compares fuel poverty and energy efficiency in the UK to 15 other European countries with comparable levels of prosperity and heating need. It ranks these countries against six key indicators for which consistent and recent European data are available to assess the energy efficiency of the UK’s homes. The UK is ranked lowest for energy (or fuel) poverty out of 13 western European countries and near the bottom of the other league tables on affordability of space heating (14 out of 15), share of household expenditure spent on energy (11 out of 13), homes in poor state of repair (11 out of 15), thermal performance (6 out of 8), and the gap between current thermal performance and what the optimal level of insulation should be in each country (7 out of 8). Overall, no other country of the 16 assessed performs as poorly as the UK across the range of indicators.

The UK ranks so low despite the fact that it has amongst the lowest gas and electricity prices in Europe and relatively high household incomes compared to the other countries. And yet it has the highest rate of fuel poverty and amongst the highest rate of excess winter deaths. In this context, the poor energy efficiency of our housing stock emerges as the main cause of these problems. David Cameron recently pledged that he wanted the UK to become “the most energy efficient country in Europe”. This ambition is all the more laudable and appropriate because this fact-file finds that presently, the UK can only be characterised as the ‘cold man of Europe’.

The Energy Bill Revolution is calling for the carbon tax every household pays via their bills to be used to make UK homes highly energy efficient, prioritising the homes of the fuel poor. There is enough carbon tax revenue to fulfil the Prime Minister’s ambition. It is enough to end fuel poverty and significantly reduce carbon emissions. It is also one of the best ways to generate growth and jobs in the UK economy.

You can download the fact-file here, and we encourage you to share your views on it. You can also head over to the Energy Bill Revolution website to read the accompanying press release from the EBR and Age UK.

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Comments (13)

  • Laurence Webb

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    This is a really good fact-file to illustrate just how poor much of the UK’s housing is and what a challenge we have on our hands if we’re going to make any progress in terms of cutting emissions.

    An additional ‘key indicator’ which would be interesting to include is average winter temperature for the various European countries considered. Although it’s been cold lately, my experience is that the mainland tends to get much colder in winter than in the UK. So despite having a coastal climate on our side we’re still wasting loads of heat through our creeky building stock.

    No doubt if you include weather as an indicator we’d be bottom of class again.

    Reply

    • Pedro Guertler

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      Thanks for your comment. You’re quite right. Of the indicators we compare, the closest measure of this is the discrepancy between the average wall U value and the ‘optimal’ wall U value of the stock in different countries. The optimal wall U value for each country considers the duration (breadth) and coldness (depth) of the winter. This is why Sweden’s optimal U value is lower than the UK’s (see Table 6). But at the same time, Sweden is closest to its own optimum, whilst the UK is far off.

      Heating Degree Days (HDDs) are a measure of winter’s depth and breadth. Footnote 10 in the fact-file explains them. The UK has had an average number of HDDs of 3,115 over the last 30 years. Sweden’s average is 5,444.

      Reply

  • John Barwise

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    Excellent report – Shocking conclusions. Perhaps one of the reasons is precisely because we have low prices which does not motivate people to save energy. We do not value ‘energy’ or understand how it works for us.
    The over-riding feature is, however, the general poor energy performance of our building stock – domestic and non-domestic.
    Your call to ring-fence carbon tax to fund refurbishment is absolutely the right thing to do. At present it is a cash cow for the government to spend on things unrelated to energy.

    Reply

  • Arnold

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    If we are ever to improve then the british goverment should follow the example of Germany’s funding for PV.

    I have internally insulated my 1890 terrace and now have areas that can’t be done internally through lack of space. To do externally also a suspended wooden floor to be made solid and insulated. I asked My Council Chester west & Chester about Green Deal they got funding for free assesments I was supposed to be getting One. Have not heard from anyone. But the more I hear about GD the less I can afford the cost of it. The Gov. should totally subsidise all work to make the poor able to afford the work that’s needed. And introduce a Carbon tax that charges people who waste energy needlessly.
    If like me we have insulated house now saving 62% of energy compared to 18yrs ago (moved in) registered superhome 141. I will struggle to finnish job without help! Our fuel bill £600 yr coal for multifuel stove £120 and wood will have to start buying that….

    Reply

  • graham farrall

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    We supply products with nano-technology they are energy saving coatings With ISO 15148 etc, will nor peel or crack as they soak in up to 17mm very economical to purchese and apply , lasting up to 20 years with a single application ,Factory has been in production over 40 years They can be applied internally or externally
    With a range of undetectable clear coatings or a colour range if required The answer to Fuel Poverty ,and the Creation of jobs , Available for the reduced rate of vat at 5% for a “supply and apply “service Especially suitable for Solid Wall Constructiom of which there are nearly 8 million properties in the UK still uninsulated The opportunities for this comprehensive range of products are massive
    We need assistance to take these to market , can you help us open the doors , and satisfy the need that is clearly out there Further supporting evidence can be emailed on request We are based in the North West but cover the whole of the UK with a 48 hour turn round — private enquiries are welcome

    Reply

  • Roderick Francis

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    I do think that we should be ashamed of our self, about fuel poverty and our homes are in poor state of repair, yet we still want to be a Newclear Power.

    Reply

  • Ken Neal

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    We need a National Insulation Scheme to be paid for by the government printing new money, i.e. Quantitative Easing. For a fuller explanation go to – https://www.facebook.com/insulatehouses

    Reply

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