According to official UK government statistics, the most cost-effective energy efficiency policy for every category of energy consumer covers energy-using products.
But it is clear that, regardless of the fuel bill savings forgone, there are many zealots who wish many of these product standards to be abolished in the UK: witness those vituperative stories regarding high-efficiency vacuum cleaners and energy saving lightbulbs – let alone the toasters that were never included in the EU rules – printed in the xenophobic Daily Express, Mail and Telegraph newspapers.
Louise Sunderland freelance built environment sustainability consultant. She previously worked as Senior Policy Advisor at UKGBC and before this in both the research and parliamentary teams here at ACE.
The ruling theory governing energy efficiency policy has for some time now been that the ‘market will deliver’ the energy and carbon savings we as a society need. And the guiding framework for national and European policy is based on interventions to enable the market to deliver…
The government is currently reviewing its non-domestic energy efficiency policies as well as its wider policy portfolio as part of the Carbon Plan.
This article contributes to this process by outlining our state of knowledge on energy efficiency and identifies some key policy principles around which a new energy efficiency programme could develop. It is drawn both from the literature and from direct policy experience in the UK and overseas.
DECC recently published statistics on the take-up of energy efficiency measures by households during 2015. In this blog post, we unpick some of the data, exploring the good, the bad and the frankly baffling within the rich data set provided. How did policy announcements affect the market? Have whole-house energy assessments unlocked energy efficiency opportunities? And could we have found the elusive answer for improving the private rented sector?
For many years the energy efficiency industry has complained of lack of finance as being a barrier – but the truth is more complex. The industry has always focused on capital cost and energy cost savings, usually expressed as payback period. It is time to move beyond this simplistic model. In the last few years the existence and value of non-energy benefits such as increased productivity, better health, increased revenues and many others has started to be recognized.
Most people might assume that flats are warmer than houses. After all, every flat has at least one other dwelling above or below it, making it a lot more difficult for heat to escape. And flats tend to be newer than houses, with more modern construction, glazing and insulation features.
And across the English housing stock the average energy efficiency of a flat is indeed higher than that of a house. But that fact masks the problem that we’re not improving our older flats with energy efficiency upgrades at the same rate as we are our houses.
One type of flat stands out as England’s coldest home – flats in buildings that were formerly single houses (“converted flats”). One in ten converted flats poses a serious threat to health and safety of occupiers because of the risk of dangerous, excess cold – a risk over twice that in the rest of the stock.
In recent years much has been made of the potential to create new ‘green jobs’ and money to be made from ‘green technologies’. With the negative impact of policy changes many of these jobs have vanished, leaving an impression of a boom-bust industry, running in parallel to the world of the mainstream building trades, engaged in general home repairs, maintenance and improvements. Interestingly this ‘RMI’ market is a substantial area of economic activity (estimated to be worth around £11bn a year in the UK, for private housing alone), largely delivered by micro-enterprise and sole-trader building tradespeople, mainly active at a very local level.
This kind of work offers huge potential for making energy improvements – by including them with other work that home owners want or need, and marginalising the impact of costs and disruption. At the moment we are missing these trigger point opportunities daily, while time slips away…
Britons seem to place a high value on the cleanliness of their linen, as a typical household runs the washing machine 5.5 times per week and uses the dryer for 5 times every week on average. On a macro level, wet appliances are estimated to consume 1.3 Mtoe in 2014, which is the second largest source of electricity use in the household. Being an energy-intensive practice, it opens a window for change in terms of demand reduction.
So far, to address domestic energy use, policy and research have focused on ‘behavioural change’. They principally draw on research outcomes from economic and psychological understandings of human behaviour, with an emphasis on individual choices. Therefore, some important aspects of the energy-use activity, such as infrastructure, practical skills, and shared social understandings behind the activity are rarely discussed and poorly understood.
The purpose of the research I conducted for Master’s thesis at Imperial College was to look into the domestic laundry practice via the perspective of social practice theory, identify its components (material, skills and images) and discuss how the interaction between those components may dictate the energy use outcome in the case study of a small group of Chinese immigrants in the UK.
Amazement, shock and concern greeted the news that energy use has declined over the last 50 years. But will the Government finally catch on to the benefits of energy efficiency?
In September, Energy in Buildings & Industry’s Warren Report was headlined “The Silent Revolution in UK Energy Use”. In it, I revealed that over the past fifty years UK GDP wealth has increased by almost threefold while at the same time overall energy consumption across the economy has actually fallen (by about 5 per cent).
The level of interest in this simple juxtaposition of two trends, heading in opposite directions, was astonishing. I have been writing monthly columns on energy for over 30 years but I can honestly report that never before has a single column of mine stimulated quite so much interest.
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.