Time to improve energy efficiency in buildings

Governments must do more to reduce energy bills by improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings.

MPs on the Westminster Energy and Climate Change Committee report that the energy efficiency supply chain has been affected by inconsistent and unpredictable policy signals, as various schemes have been chopped and changed. Last year the UK Government announced an end to the Green Deal and reneged on a long-standing commitment to require all new homes to be zero carbon from 2016. The zero carbon homes policy would have saved future homeowners money on their energy bills. They recommend that it should either be reinstated or the Government should set out a similar policy that will ensure that new homes generate no net carbon emissions and are inexpensive to heat and light.

In the Agenda pages of The Herald, Sam Gardner from WWF makes the case that energy efficiency should be an infrastructure priority in Scotland. He uses the example of a new investment model in the Netherlands, known as Energiesprong. This scheme is retrofitting entire streets in a matter of days to create net-zero emissions (energy-neutral) homes and regenerating entire neighbourhoods. He says: “There is much that we could learn from the scale and ambition of this approach as the Scottish Government turns its commitment to a national energy efficiency programme into a programme of works. If we are to cut the emissions from our housing sector and tackle fuel poverty all homes must be supported to reach at least an Energy Performance Certificate of C by 2025.”

He also argues that a Warm Homes Act would bring clean and affordable warmth to households and businesses, by supporting the growth of district heating and renewable heat, while improving the energy efficiency of our buildings. It would reduce heat demand, cut fuel bills and create jobs in a new district heating industry. He says: “By making the improvement of energy efficiency a long-term national infrastructure project, no one in Scotland would have to live in a hard to heat, draughty home by 2025. Public investment in energy efficiency could create up to 9,000 new jobs around every part of Scotland, and ensure 1.25million homes in Scotland will be made warm, affordable to heat, and lower carbon.”

District heating is unlikely to attract enough investment without a level playing field. In an evidence session to the Westminster Energy and Climate Change Select Committee ADE’s director Dr Tim Rotheray welcomed the £300m of government support, but said the government needs to develop a “regulatory investment framework” to support future growth. He said district heating needs a framework comparable to that which electricity and gas already have so “institutional investors” can compare options.

Rob Raine from the University of Sheffield argues that we need to do more to prevent valuable energy being lost to the environment as heat. He points out that it's not just draughty buildings – power stations lose a vast amount of heat through their cooling towers or dumped into waterways, equivalent in the UK to a third of final energy use, while UK industry wastes enough heat to warm more than two million households. Storing this heat can even help us manage renewable energy – at lower cost than batteries.

Scottish Labour has highlighted the Scottish Government's Budget cut on spending for fuel poverty measures by £15 million – a 13% cut to the current budget. They say this is short sighted and leaves 200,000 'out in the cold'. Communities spokesperson Ken Macintosh MSP said:

“Labour will deliver a ground-breaking Scottish Warm Homes Act. This will deliver the changes we need to see in planning and building regulations to tackle fuel poverty. The SNP may miss the 2016 target, but Scotland must not give up on ending fuel poverty.”

Action on energy efficiency is a clear win-win. It helps individuals in fuel poverty, boosts the economy and helps tackle climate change. It's time for action.


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