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Energy-efficiency saves money, brings jobs, cuts carbon – what’s not to like?

save energyEnergy-efficient homes use less fuel and save money © Ben Ealovega/WWF-UK

Making UK homes more energy-efficient should be a no-brainer. It helps reduce people’s bills, creates jobs in the building trade, improves the country’s energy security – and also happens to be the most cost-effective way to reduce our carbon emissions. So why isn’t our government fully behind it…?

The International Energy Agency says energy efficiency policies could save the world 850 billion Euros a year – that’s equivalent to the whole of Europe’s current energy bill!

So why is our government dragging its heels on such an important and urgent issue? It seems to be ‘one step forward, two steps back’ at the moment.

We’re all waiting for the launch of the Green Deal later this year, but the government is dangerously wobbling on key issues – like the need to create enough demand for the programme, as well as the process of how to improve new homes.

The government department responsible for building standards (DCLG) is coming under pressure, from within and outside government, to remove or water down planned improvements to building standards – for new and existing homes – which would save significant amounts of energy as well as emissions.

Just look at the mess over the so-called ‘conservatory tax’. The government was simply looking at whether people who are extending or upgrading their existing homes should be required to make sure the whole home meets a certain energy efficiency standard (so called ‘consequential improvements’).

This seems quite reasonable to us, considering that the extended home would use more energy, and bearing in mind that the efficiency measures would actually save the homeowner money very quickly.

And the Green Deal would have meant there’d be no upfront cost to the households – they’d enjoy the benefits straightaway and pay off the cost of the work through savings on their energy bill.

Ironically this policy has actually been working successfully since 2006 in Conservative-led Uttlesford district council, with almost no opposition.

But now, after one very misinformed and completely misleading article in the Daily Mail, and vocal opposition from a couple of ideologically driven MPs, the government seems to be in full retreat on the policy.

Dropping this requirement effectively weakens the government’s ambition on energy efficiency. There are already real concerns about the level of public demand for taking up the Green Deal, and this retreat makes it even more difficult for government to make the scheme a success.

This will in turn impact on businesses looking to invest in the Green Deal, and the outlook for new jobs and cutting emissions will suffer.

The prospect for greener new homes looks dimmer too. The government has previously promised it wanted all new homes from 2016 onwards to be ‘zero carbon’ (ie very energy efficient and using low or no-carbon energy) and is proposing new interim standards for 2013.

In reality, though, the government has already weakened the 2016 standard by a third to appease housebuilders – and the industry is still pushing for more concessions.

We understand some housebuilders are claiming poverty and saying they can’t afford the new standards. But a quick look at the facts reveals a very different picture.

Figures show industry earnings are on the rise, and the cost of low-carbon technologies (such as solar panels) are plummeting year-on-year, making them cheaper and more attractive to install.

Weakening the standards for new homes is just storing up trouble for later. Energy use and emissions from these homes would be higher, and we might still have to go in and retrofit them in the future, which would be much more costly than doing it right in the first place. It would also undermine progressive companies gearing up to meet the higher standards.

Sadly the UK’s ambivalent attitude is having an impact beyond our shores too. An Energy Efficiency Directive designed to get the EU back on track with its energy savings target and help lower emissions across the continent is currently being weakened with the help of the UK government.

Ultimately, if the government is serious about creating jobs, reducing fuel poverty and meeting our climate targets, it needs to be serious and long-term about energy efficiency.

It truly is a ‘win-win’ way forward – but not everyone in government seems to get it yet.

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