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With tough targets and some concerns over gaps in domestic energy efficiency policy, Energy Saving Trust's Chief Executive, Philip Sellwood spoke last week at a Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum event discussing what's coming up in this area. Here are some of the thoughts he shared with an audience of political and trade figures.
Looking ahead, Sellwood expressed concern about the Committee on Climate Change's pessimistic predictions around the UK's fourth carbon budget, which has a deadline in the mid-2020s. He said:
“The Fuel Poverty strategy for England commits us to reaching a standard of Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) “C” – for fuel poor homes by 2030, with fuel poor F&G rated homes to be a matter of history by 2020. Most analysis, including the government’s own consultation document on this strategy, suggests we don’t yet have the policies in place to meet this target.”
But policy right now is not serving the 'able to pay' part of the market for energy efficiency all that well either, he explained:
“Since the demise of Green Deal, there is currently no plan for financial support, or an incentive scheme for able-to-pay home energy efficiency improvements other than what remains of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). ECO will in future be 100 per cent directed to the fuel poor.”
Beyond financial considerations, when it comes to what's holding back British energy efficiency, the reasons are threefold, said Sellwood:
“Firstly, finding out about and buying new technologies can be difficult when there are few companies in the market, few people to turn to for advice – whether this is family, neighbours or friends – and also relatively little on the internet that explains things in a consumer-friendly way.
“Secondly, homes are complex energy systems: householders can struggle to understand how different home energy improvements relate to each other and which actions they should prioritise.
“Finally, there’s the rented sector information gap where landlords fail to invest in energy efficiency because they think – rightly or wrongly – that tenants don’t value the benefits enough to pay a higher rent for a warmer home.”
Citing the long payback periods that can put householders off getting solid wall insulation, Sellwood explained that while money-saving messages still strike a chord, there needs to be a broader dialogue about the value of energy efficiency. He said:
“We need to start talking to householders much more about the ‘comfort’ benefits of many home energy efficiency improvements.
“Despite the eternal payback, double-glazing has been the most successful energy efficiency home solution: 86 per cent of homes in England are now mostly double-glazed. The double-glazing industry has sold its wider benefits: no draughts, greater warmth, noise reduction and greater security.”
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Energy Saving Trust research has found that people value being able to heat their home as a key decision-maker when choosing where to live. What's more, once they're in a property, they are more receptive to energy efficiency messages at key 'trigger points' in their lives, such as gaining a higher salary, starting a family or entering retirement. Sellwood said:
“When it comes to the hassle factor, many homeowners do cite this as a barrier. However, if they are already being disrupted because they are undertaking a home improvement such as an extension, they see the merit in undertaking energy efficiency home improvements at the same time.”
Sellwood believes that the market cannot by itself deliver energy efficiency changes at the speed required in the UK – and called for more clarity as to what is going to follow Green Deal. He said:
“There are several models we can follow – let’s start by looking at what’s happening in Scotland and their experience with loans schemes.
“Council tax or stamp duty incentives for energy efficiency – they’re great ideas but I’m so bored with hearing about them. We first published an analysis of the viability of these incentives in 2005, and eleven years later there are still reports coming out with council tax and stamp duty as the next big idea. It’s time for a proper government response with a serious consideration of how these proposals can be made to work in practice.”
Finance, though, is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to upping the pace of home improvements. Sellwood highlighted examples where laws could use some tightening and clarification:
“The private rented sector minimum “E” regulations need to be given real force, with landlords required to invest some of their own money to bring homes up to that decent, minimum standard.
“We need to get to grip with energy efficiency in flats where the difficulty of collective decision making and the complexity of England’s arcane freehold/leasehold law too often acts as a barrier for action.
“There are straightforward reforms to property law that could give energy efficiency in flats the same status as essential repair and maintenance. Again, that follows a successful approach already taken in Scotland.”
Sellwood stressed the importance of data, but made it clear that the information made available through the roll out of smart meters should not be one-way traffic, only useful to energy companies. He said:
“In order to realise the benefits of smart meters, customers have to have full access to their own data and share it with whomever they choose.
“This access to data will also allow organisations providing energy saving and energy demand management services to innovate and provide a range of new services that can take energy productivity to the next level.”
Pointing to Energy Saving Trust's Smart Metering Advice Project (SMAP), which looks to personalise the smart meter experience for householders, he added:
“The results so far are very encouraging. The survey found that nearly 90 per cent of householders found the smart meter and web-tool system useful for increasing their understanding of the energy they consumed.
“Householders appreciated the access to online and personalised telephone support and advisers reported that they were able to effectively tailor advice, based on the smart meter data.”
Sellwood is part of the Bonfield Review on energy efficiency, and is excited about the coming recommendations, but stressed that without government being held to account, there can be no guarantees. He takes heart from the fact that the broader impact of large-scale investment in energy efficiency is being increasing highlighted – putting positive pressure on for targets to be met, adding:
“The bigger issue is that carbon and fuel poverty targets are a matter for the whole of society and we do need to invest in our homes to achieve them.
“Thankfully, research that’s been undertaken by well-respected economic consultancies is showing that infrastructure investment in energy efficiency rapidly pays back in wider economic growth, jobs and energy security. There is a huge and exciting potential for home energy efficiency in this country. Let’s unlock it.”