The strange tale of the Secretary of State, the DECs, and the quiet consultation

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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Last Wednesday Communities Secretary Eric Pickles concluded an unusually swift and unpublicised (at least, by him) “public consultation” into whether there is any purpose in requiring Display Energy Certificates (DECs) for public buildings.

These are the A to G ratings which for the past seven years you should have expected to find exhibited “in a prominent position” in any of the 58,000 buildings occupied by the public sector, that you might be visiting. That means central and local government offices, libraries, sports centres, schools and colleges, hospitals and surgeries, museums, and so on.

This very Thursday – just six working days after his “public consultation” closed – Pickles is due to receive from his officials their considered conclusions. How do I know this?

I am the present chair of the British Energy Efficiency Federation. The membership of BEEF is made up of 18 of the trade associations most directly involved with the energy efficiency market: it was created by the then relevant Department back in 1996, and has continued to meet on a quarterly basis under the auspices, and in the offices, of whichever Department holds the energy efficiency brief (currently DECC).

Let’s tip the balance back towards demand management

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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Reducing demand is better value than continuing to plough money into increasing energy production. So why do we continue to favour energy production?

In almost all circumstances, it is cheaper to avoid having to use energy than it is to produce it. This is a mantra with which most will be familiar: it has been enunciated by practically every objective strategic energy study for decades. Again this month the European Commission repeated it forcefully, in its magisterial paper setting out the case for a full Energy Union.

So, if demand management is much better value than generating new supplies of energy, why do our political leaders in the UK consistently set out to handicap energy saving – while energetically promoting production?

Our response to CLG consultation on Display Energy Certificates (DECs)

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Consultation Responses, Perspective

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ACE has responded to CLG’s consultation on ‘Display Energy Certificates: current regime and how it could be streamlined and improved‘. You can read our response here, and a summary of our response below.

When Display Energy Certificates (DECs) were first introduced, it was because CLG themselves identified that they were a) more appropriate for display in public buildings than Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and b) more cost-beneficial.

There is evidence referred to in the consultation itself, that DECs drive energy savings. There is also clear evidence from abroad, that regular operational ratings (of the kind contained in DECs) drive significant energy savings in the buildings in which they are used and displayed.

To remove schools and universities from the DEC regime totally contradicts the spirit of the recast Energy Performance of Buildings directive. Its intention is for DECs to apply to all buildings occupied by public authorities and also all buildings frequently visited by the public (the directive cites “shops and shopping centres, supermarkets, restaurants, theatres, banks and hotels” as examples). Schools and universities fall into both these categories, and the directive’s implication that they have to be included could not be clearer. Many more buildings should have been included as well, which is why the Government had intended in 2011 to extend DECs to the types of commercial buildings listed above.

The public sector should lead by example. The recast Energy Performance of Buildings directive states that “the public sector […] should lead the way in the field of energy performance of buildings” and “should set an example by showing that environmental and energy considerations are being taken into account and therefore those buildings should be subject to energy certification on a regular basis”. To remove or scale back the DEC regime would fly in the face of these requirements.

Recent analysis by University College London shows that 8,500 buildings with continual DECs over three years and larger than 1,000m2 achieved 3% annual energy savings in 2011 compared to 2009. In our estimation, this is roughly equivalent to £18m savings. If all 42,000 large buildings with DECs achieved the same saving, the total would be £89m. The total cost of the DECs regime is £7.8m, one eleventh of these savings. It is likely that DECs were a significant factor in starting these buildings on their energy management journey, which may well not have occurred in their absence. For every £1 saving on the DECs regime that CLG could achieve by abolishing it, the Department is putting at risk up to £11 of savings already achieved, and countless additional savings which an effective DECs regime would continue to drive. Furthermore, the savings calculated exclude the value of carbon savings achieved, employment and other spill-over benefits.

What CLG is proposing is to abolish (or severely truncate) a DEC regime which is proven to drive energy savings in public buildings and therefore make savings to the public purse. Far from freeing up resources for frontline services, abolishing DECs would at best reduce any energy cost savings being achieved and at worst enable the public sector to hide their wastefulness from the taxpayer and encourage profligacy. At a time of increasing pressure on public budgets and the need for more transparency to better account for public spending, the proposals to abolish or truncate a DEC regime which demonstrably saves far more money than it costs to run is plain stupidity.

The regime can be streamlined and improved, and a proper engagement and consultation exercise should be undertaken to find the best ways of doing so. As it stands, the current consultation, which has not even deigned to assess the benefits of the regime alongside its costs, is meaningless.

New fuel poverty strategy for England doesn’t really cut it

Written by Garry Felgate on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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The Government has today published its new fuel poverty strategy for England. While welcoming the intention to bring the homes of the fuel poor up to a high energy efficiency standard, we believe the target date of 2030 is far too long to wait. We also believe that all low income households – not just those that are fuel poor today – should be improved.

It is cost-effective and practicable to improve the homes of all 6 million low income households to a C energy rating by 2025 – with 2m improved to this level by 2020. If we just focus on fuel poor households, other low income households will simply drop into fuel poverty if their circumstances change negatively or fuel prices rise.

Finally, we are worried about the caveat that households will only be improved ‘as far as reasonably practicable’. This should be removed or at the very least tightly defined to ensure that it cannot be used by future Governments as an excuse for failing to implement the strategy. While there may occasionally be circumstances in which reaching the target is impossible or prohibitively expensive, a blanket caveat is simply a recipe for delay and inaction.

We raised all of these concerns when the Government published and consulted on its draft strategy last year. We are disappointed that our concerns, shared by countless others in the NGO and academic communities, have been ignored.

Kick out this absurd policy

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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Buy a new home from a small company. And guarantee higher fuel bills, increasing emissions and general confusion between regulators and consumers. Sounds like a poor deal all round, both for the purchaser, and the marketing prospects for smaller construction companies?

I would agree. But nonetheless Communities Secretary Eric Pickles seems determined to foist this absurd proposal onto the marketplace as soon as possible.

Since 2006 it is has been agreed policy among the three major political parties that all new homes built from 2016 should emit zero carbon. This became legally binding (albeit by 2019) under the 2010 recast of the European Energy Performance of Buildings directive.

Is Eric Pickles implementing a scorched earth policy ahead of the election?

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

DECC DEC

Today, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a consultation which proposes to abolish Display Energy Certificates in England and Wales. DECs show actual energy consumption of public buildings on an A to G rating scale and need to be prominently displayed.  They are required annually for public buildings over 1,000m2, and every 10 years for buildings between 500m2 and 1,000m2. So far, 54,000 public buildings have them.

They raise public awareness of energy consumption in public buildings, make the sector more accountable for their energy consumption to tax-payers, and act as a driver and tool to reduce energy consumption in buildings and convince building owners to invest. The rating on a DEC can be improved by both energy efficiency works and by getting building users to cut back on unnecessary energy use (Energy Performance Certificates don’t register the latter). According to a study cited in the consultation itself, public buildings with DECs reduced their energy consumption by 2% more than their private sector counterparts between 2008 and 2009, just one year into their introduction. Little surprise that in 2011, David Cameron promised to extend the requirement for DECs to buildings in the commercial sector.

Despite this rollout to the private sector being supported by the CBI and the British Property Federation, Government reneged on that promise. Now they are proposing to row back to an extent that beggars belief. CLG says that abolishing DECs would save public authorities £760,000 each year.

When the Department of Energy and Climate Change moved into Whitehall Place, its DEC had a rating of G. That caught our attention – and the attention of countless others who visited the building.  The unflattering spotlight being shone on the Department will have played its part in stinging them into action and they’ve since improved their building’s energy consumption to a rating of C, saving £156,000 annually in the process. In one building (yes, a fairly large one). One building out of 54,000. Five such cases would exceed CLG’s savings estimate. The Government should make good on its original promise and extend DECs to the commercial sector, not abolish them. This staggering case of money-saving myopia must be stopped in its tracks.

Our response to CLG consultation on the future of the English Housing Survey

Written by Pedro Guertler on . Posted in Consultation Responses, Perspective

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ACE has responded to CLG’s consultation on the ‘Future shape of the English Housing Survey‘. It proposes to severely cut back the English Housing Survey just as DECC published the new fuel poverty strategy for England, which relies on the EHS to measure progress against its targets. You can read our response here, and a summary of our response below.

The English Housing Survey should not be cut at all. The data it collects are of great value to numerous Government policies and Departments, and are invaluable to countless stakeholders who support Government in policy evaluation and recommendations, and who also play a democratic role in holding Government to account for progress against a plethora of policy objectives. In particular, the EHS must be retained on an annual basis in a manner that allows Government to accurately monitor progress on reaching fuel poverty targets set for 2020, 2025 and 2030 and in way which is compatible with previous years’ statistics.

Stark choice ahead on emissions trading

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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The European Union emissions trading scheme – the EU:ETS – is a wonderfully bold experiment. A tremendous example of ten years of cross-border co-operation between 28 sovereign states, attempting to combat one of the greatest threats to mankind.

Even so, it needs to be altered dramatically. And if it really cannot be changed, so it can for the first time deliver real carbon savings, then it must be side-lined in importance – even (reluctantly) scrapped.

It is now exactly ten years since the trading scheme began operating. That it ever managed to do so was a great tribute to the dogged determination of those at the European Commission who – together with executives from a couple of the big power utilities – had championed it despite a background of incredulous scoffing at their apparent over-ambition by the Bush Administration in the US and business-as-usual mouthpieces across Europe.

The UK’s hidden agenda

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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Heads of European Governments have ignored all the evidence on energy efficiency and failed to set binding targets. What was behind the UK’s opposition?

Not that long ago, I recall visiting the offices of those overseeing UK energy policy, to be greeted with a large poster that read: “Real Men Build Power Stations.” How things have changed, you might think.

The International Energy Agency now routinely describes energy efficiency as “the first fuel” option. This March the heads of the 28 European Union governments unanimously agreed that increasing investment in energy efficiency should be the “first step” taken to reduce energy imports and increase energy security.

The day after he became Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey launched the Energy Efficiency Deployment Office, promising that improving energy saving would be his “number one priority.”

We are all donkeys

Written by Andrew Warren on . Posted in Articles and Blog, Perspective

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On average, we are all 18 per cent wealthier in real terms than we were at the start of the century. On average, we are achieving this increase in affluence while using 14 per cent less energy than in 2000.

One way this turnaround has been achieved is by treating us all like donkeys.

There are three ways to get donkeys to do things. You wave a carrot in front of their noses. You bash them on the rump with a stick. And most importantly, around their ears, you rattle away on a tambourine. All to get the donkey’s attention.