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2014: A green policy round-up

2014 may be remembered as the year when international debate on climate targets gave way to what looks like broad agreement. Certainly in Europe, more common ground has been found than ever. The green year in England has not been so turbulent by the standards of the sector, but it has still much jockeying for political positioning amidst continued spending cuts, the continued debate around ‘keeping the lights on’ and an upcoming election. In terms of flagship energy efficiency policy, there's no denying that Green Deal finance take-up has been far below ambitions, but the numbers are increasing.

The year began with a raft of publications and announcements in January: the long-awaited Community Energy Strategy was published and broadly welcomed - though the coming years will see if it truly bears fruit. Cash was announced to help councils get heat networks off the ground and SMEs to get their green innovations to market. Local authorities can still mandate renewable energy in new developments, after the Merton Rule was retained in March following a fierce campaign. More good news in March was the announcement of the first council areas to benefit from Green Deal Communities funding, to support street-by-street refurbishments. April saw the launch of the eagerly-awaited domestic arm of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) which has enjoyed a positive start. Grid capacity was called into question in the early summer. Energy secretary Ed Davey said the grid would cope with England winning the World Cup - a hypothesis that in the end was not even feebly tested. The ‘silly season’ enjoyed something of an Indian summer in September, as EU product energy efficiency phase-out plans, particularly around vacuum cleaners, were talked of in over-excitable terms.

Our product expert Tom Lock added some calm thinking to the debate, and he was not alone. The debate quickly rationalised. The Autumn Statement saw little in the way of green announcements to thrill - but some commentators offered that public quietness might not be such a bad thing; more a chance to crack on in relative stability.  All is far from idyllic, though - commentators have warned that Britain’s infrastructure investment plans are far from green, as they stand. Road building plans to tap the UK’s shale gas reserves have come under severe criticism.

Looking to the New Year, changes to the RHI mean that from spring 2015, social landlords with newer properties will no longer need to get a Green Deal Assessment to take advantage of incentivised low carbon heating. Some checks are rightly still in place, though - the homes need an EPC and to be less than two years old. It will also be interesting to see that effect the infrastructure bill currently going through Parliament is likely to have on zero carbon homes targets. The bill includes some exemptions to the zero carbon standards coming in 2016, for smaller housing developments. One to follow closely, in what is expected to be a big year for green endeavours, both at home and abroad.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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