Domestic energy efficiency – time to give this no-brainer the headspace it deserves
The UK has long-standing, statutory targets to eradicate fuel poverty. It has committed to the most ambitious time frame for achieving a net zero carbon economy of any major economy.
Government’s own advisory committees have given little comfort that they are on course to get anywhere close to meeting them.
This week the Committee on Climate Change published a sobering assessment of ‘progress’ against existing government carbon targets. The Committee on Fuel Poverty has given similar assessments over recent years. Neither give government many places to hide.
It is generally accepted that these targets require government to use all the policy and fiscal levers available to it. Obligating, encouraging and nudging markets and households will help, but will never be enough.
What does it say about the UK approach to these twin challenges, that one of those levers, acknowledged as the ‘no-brainer’ and ‘no regrets’ option, is effectively left on the shelf.
Domestic energy efficiency is too often the ‘Cinderella’ policy. Left behind while politicians and others are bewitched by the bright and shiny end of the innovation agenda, or by shifting responsibility for delivery and funding away from government and onto energy companies and consumer bills.
This is not to diminish the importance of innovation or industry schemes. They are critical to tackling fuel poverty and consumer vulnerability. But they will deliver the greatest benefits alongside a step-change in domestic energy efficiency.
The report by the BEIS select committee does not have much to say that is new and startling. That is precisely the point. Those who followed the committee’s work will have had discovered familiar issues set out clearly, and with strong evidence. The committee report is important because it challenges government on the fundamental question facing it on this issue. What is government’s role, given its statutory targets, in driving energy efficiency at the scale and pace that is needed.
Ministers go to select committees to answer questions. But Claire Perry asked a very pertinent one in her evidence session. Why, after all these years, is energy efficiency still the no-brainer that isn’t being delivered?
Some of the reasons are well known, and they are not trivial. Uncertainty on returns on investment, millions of households to engage, dispersed supply chains, supporting people who can afford to improve their own homes and a Treasury who feel they have shifted the costs of energy efficiency off the public purse and onto consumer bills.
The reasons may not be trivial, but they are not material given the twin challenges of climate change and fuel poverty. This report is the opportunity for government to give ‘no-brainer’ energy efficiency, the headspace it needs. An opportunity to reset government policy on energy efficiency and match the ambition of its targets with some serious and committed policies and resources. It is an opportunity it cannot afford to spurn.