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Posts Tagged ‘Domestic Energy Consumption’

Behaviour,Domestic Energy Consumption,heritage,historic buildings

Building on the Past: energy efficiency in historic buildings

Dr Thomas Yarrow is a Senior Lecturer at Durham University.  In this perspective piece, he shares some findings and implications from his current project, Building on the Past.

In the UK we are obsessed with the past. Old buildings are all around us, valued in different ways, as symbols of history and tradition. They contribute to our sense of identity and place, and have a range of social and economic values. However, preservation of these buildings does not always sit easily alongside the aim of improved energy efficiency. Micro-renewables, double-glazing and improved insulation can all contribute to improved energy performance but can also adversely affect the aesthetic qualities and historic materials that we value. Around 20% of English homes were built before 1919, and older homes tend to be less efficient than those built more recently.  Making improvements to historic buildings poses challenges, so it is important to understand what these homes mean to the people who live in them, and work with them.

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Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Saving,Heating

“Dragon-breath and snow-melt”: New article on know-how for keeping warm

What skills and know-how do people use to keep warm at home?  Where does this knowledge come from?  These questions are addressed in a new article by ACE researcher Sarah Royston, published in the journal Energy Research and Social Science.

Keeping warm at home means managing heat flows – making sure that heat is where it is needed, when it is needed.  In doing this, we interact with a wide range of objects, appliances and building features, from long-johns to loft insulation, and from hair-dryers to heat pumps.

Managing heat flows is something we do almost all the time, often without thinking much about it (by opening a window, or putting on a jumper, for example).  But many of the things we do to keep warm involve some kind of practical knowledge or know-how.  For example, we might know how to adjust the settings on a storage heater, programme the central heating,  or light a fire.  Equally we might know how to find and block draughts, or fashion an improvised bed-warmer from an old sock filled with rice.

This article explores the many kinds of know-how involved in keeping homes warm, and how these are learned through experience.  The senses are important here – for example, we might use visible “dragon breath” as an indicator of cold.  The article also looks at how changes such as moving house or having children can affect know-how, and reflects on what these ideas might mean for research, policy and practice on sustainable energy use.

You can read the full article (currently free) here.

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Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Efficiency,Energy Policy

It’s official. Energy consumption in the UK is on the way down

Here is a simple test for everybody. By how much has UK energy consumption already increased during this century? Actually, this isn’t just a question for generalists. I have been regularly trying it out on energy specialists in companies, in trade bodies. Even among the senior civil service. The answer given varies. But almost without exception, the response is that consumption has gone up. Sometimes by 5 per cent, sometimes 10 per cent, sometimes 20 per cent or more.

I then ask: how much do you think the country’s wealth has increased over the same period? And when I tell people that – even despite the recession – Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has risen by no less than 58 per cent between 2000 and 2012, I instantly get a re-evaluation of how much energy consumption has grown.

“Ah well, in that case, we are probably talking about a similarly high figure for energy usage. Not 20 per cent, but 40 per cent. Even 50 per cent.”

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Consumer Focus,Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Bills,Energy Policy,Fuel Poverty

Who Pays? The impact of energy policy on consumer bills

Two reports for Consumer Focus on the impact of environmental and social policies on consumer bills

As part of Consumer Focus’s “Who Pays?” programme, ACE Research was commissioned to produce two reports about the impact of environmental and social policies on consumers’ bills.

With energy prices rising, fuel poverty becoming more widespread, and households struggling to afford their energy bills, some have sought to blame energy and climate change policies that often result in a direct or indirect levy upon energy bills. A lack of transparency over the magnitude and distributional impact of these costs has made it difficult for stakeholders to make considered judgements.

Government and the Committee on Climate Change have responded by publishing assessments of the impact policies currently have on energy bills, and the likely impacts by 2020.  Such assessments depend upon a range of assumptions. Using a combination of housing stock and household models, the report entitled “Impact of future energy policy on consumer bills” presents evidence on the potential range of energy bills under different assumptions, the structure of the costs that are passed through to consumers, and explores the distributional impacts of bills in 2020.

The principle of recovering the costs associated with UK environmental and social policies via consumer energy bills or taxes is not a new one.  The report entitled “Past and future trends in environmental and social levies seeks to quantify the historical costs and average cost per household associated with such policies from 1990 to 2010 (see Figure 1), and forecast future costs from 2010 to 2020.  In light of the controversy around the Government’s proposal to reduce the support for small scale renewable electricity (Feed-in Tariff rate for photovoltaics), this paper also explores the cost implications of two different tariff scenarios investigated by Government.

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Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Efficiency,Green Deal

The gas bill could turn you off energy saving

ImageOne of the features of the Green Deal is the repayment of energy efficiency loans through lower bills. But has the Government chosen the wrong bill?

The Green Deal is primarily designed to save energy used for heating. And for hot water. Across Britain, most heating and hot water is provided by natural gas. So why then is the Green Deal charge set to be placed on the electricity bill?

There is no doubting the ambition of the Green Deal. According to Energy Minister Greg Barker, it is due to be made available to two out of three British households by the end of the decade. As it doesn’t get started until autumn 2012, that means around 2 million homes could be involved every year of its existence. Plus an as yet unidentified number of commercial and services buildings.

Last autumn Mr Barker invited me to chair a new advisory forum made up of some 23 mostly private sector stakeholders. He nominated buildings-related professional bodies, landlords and tenants interests, local government and energy supply associations, environmental and housing organisations to serve with me.

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Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Efficiency,Private Rented Sector

Let’s remove the barriers to the landlord

ImageA straightforward change to an act of parliament could remove many of the barriers to landlords investing in energy efficiency

[The author acknowledges the work of Dr N Roberts, as published in the New Law Journal (“Keeping warm communally”, 160 NLJ 7423, p 897), in the development of some of the ideas contained in this column.]

The landlord/tenant arrangement is one of the greatest barriers to improving the energy efficiency of buildings. The dichotomy is simply expressed. Why should a landlord, who doesn’t pay the fuel bills, fund measures intended to reduce these fuel bills? In turn, why should a tenant pay for improvements to a property that belongs to somebody else?

I think there is a small alteration that can be made to an established 23-year-old Act of Parliament which could facilitate a way round this conundrum, and really get the Green Deal ethos going in tenanted premises.

Right now, even if the leaseholder is prepared to fund investments unilaterally, some serious legal difficulties constrain action. The tenant’s locus effectively ends at the inner surface of the exterior walls. Any cavity between the two skins of brickwork belongs to the landlord. The “demise” (or legal authority) of the typical top-floor flat ends at the ceiling: the uninsulated attic falls within the “common parts”, the landlord’s domain. Similarly, exterior windows and walls belong to the landlord.

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Buildings,Domestic Energy Consumption,Double Glazing,Windows

Can the double glazing industry sell itself to government?

ImageAlthough a fifth of domestic heat loss is through single-glazed windows there is little acknowledgement of the benefits of double glazing in recent government strategy

Most people don’t spend much time thinking about saving energy in buildings. If they do, what they think about first remains: double glazing. Funny that. Because if you ask the policy makers, it scarcely registers on their priority list.

Why is this, when the average home can still be losing upwards of 20 per cent of fuel through any single-glazed windows? Why, when the majority of homes still don’t have any form of secondary glazing throughout? Why, when this is one of the very few energy-saving measures that property professionals agree puts up the perceived resale value?

The reason for this divergence is rather more complex than might appear at first sight. It has much to do with departmental responsibility divisions, prejudice regarding how markets work, and just ignorance.

The government‘s new “Household Energy Management” strategy sets out in detail its energy-saving policy for existing homes for the next decade. It has lots to say on microgeneration and photovoltaics. But the only acknowledgment that energy can escape as much through windows as it can via roof or walls is a grudging footnote.

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Carbon Emissions Reduction Target,Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Efficiency,Fuel Poverty,Warm Front Scheme

Back to wartime measures in the battle against the scourge of fuel poverty

ImageWith increasing pressure on public sector finances venture capital could be one way to kick start a drive to bring the UK’s homes up to high standards of energy efficiency

In 2000 there were some 3.7m households in Britain living in fuel poverty. Of which 2.8m were in England. Today, the best estimate is that there are over 5m households who need to spend over 10 per cent of their disposable income buying fuel to keep warm in winter.

This is an unacceptable social problem, especially in one of the richest countries in the world. And a real barrier to achieving climate change goals.

Radical steps need to be taken to reverse, then eliminate, this shameful trend. In this column, I will propose what needs to be done to eliminate the problem altogether—so that it becomes as irrelevant as in every other western European country outside the British Isles.

In 2000 the government passed the Warm Homes & Energy Conservation Act. Its objective was clear. In the words of the 2001 Labour election manifesto, “by 2010 no vulnerable household in the UK need risk ill-health due to a cold home”.

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Domestic Energy Consumption,Energy Performance Certificates

Only reform of the EPC will bring about improvements

ImageAs a key driver in reducing energy use in the home the EPCs must be reformed to be more visible and provide real motivation for us to make changes in our attitude to energy consumption

A property is the single most valuable purchase most of us will ever make. For years, it was argued that is a compelling reason why each building should be given an energy rating. Prospective purchasers can get an idea of its relative efficiency. And advice on what improvements can be done.

Since 2007 by law you can’t move into a new building – even a rented one- without being told what its rating is. Increasingly there is talk about using the Energy Performance Certificate (or EPC for short) as the lynchpin of a variety of “sticks and carrots” intended to drive forward improvements. To do this, requires a step change in our approach to EPCs.

There is no question of the size of the task before us. Professor Michael Kelly is just stepping down as the chief scientist at the Communities and Local Government department. He estimates that, to comply with the reduction levels set out in the 2008 Climate Change Act, we need a six-fold increase in the rate of energy improvements in our homes.

His message is simple. Between 1990 and 2005 we lowered carbon emissions from homes by an overall 4%. On the 2050 trajectory, we  require a 24% reduction over 15 years – six times more than we managed during that earlier period. Throughout which time, you may recall, the UK congratulated itself endlessly on being the world leaders in carbon abatement.

One of the phrases beloved of all energy saving gurus is the phrase: “If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it properly”. Perhaps the biggest difference is that, unlike in 1990, we now have an unequivocal means of measuring the energy condition of our buildings. The EPC.

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Carbon Emissions Reduction Target,Domestic Emissions,Domestic Energy Consumption

If it works, don’t fix it. Unless it’s a successful energy-saving programme

ImageEverybody would agree that the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target has been a great success reducing household emissions by at least 8m tonnes. But proposed changes could destroy its entire credibility

For the past decade, the big energy companies have had ever increasing obligations to help householders save energy. These requirements have been met by the provision of financial assistance towards the installation of agreed energy saving measures.

By any standards, the policy has been a great success. Now after two name changes CERT (the Carbon Emission Reduction Target), has succeeded in reducing household emissions by at least 8 million tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2). The National Audit Office has confirmed it is one of the very best value climate change programmes.

By bringing to reality the rhetoric about the need to invest in more energy efficient measures, it has genuinely transformed markets: for appliances like integrated digital tuners; for professional loft insulation; for window ratings.

It has created many new jobs. It has greatly increased comfort and well-being. It has even improved the security of energy supply. All in all, a veritable success story.

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