The government should strengthen, not abandon, the Display Energy Certificate system

Andrew Warren

This month marks a year since former communities secretary Eric Pickles announced that he intended to abolish all Display Energy Certificates (DECs) in England and Wales. He published a consultation with the minimum period of time for responses (just 28 days).

You can find the details of the consultation here. Sadly none of the many indignant responses sent have yet been formally published by the department, but – despite that precipitate rush to run the consultation – fortunately nor has any formal decision yet been taken by government .

Were he to confirm Pickles’ proposals, his successor Greg Clark would be ensuring that the public sector continues to spend far more on its energy bills in its buildings than necessary.

DECs show actual energy consumption of public buildings on an A to G rating scale; as of now, they need to be “prominently displayed”. They are required annually for each public building of over 1,000m2, and every 10 years for buildings between 500m2 and 1,000m2. So far, 54,000 public buildings have them.

The objective is to raise public awareness of energy consumption in public buildings, make the sector more accountable for their energy consumption to taxpayers, and act as a driver and tool to reduce energy consumption in buildings and convince building owners to invest. The rating on a DEC can be improved by both energy efficiency works – and by getting building users to cut back on unnecessary energy use (Energy Performance Certificates don’t register the latter).

According to a study cited in Pickles’ consultation, just a year into their introduction, between 2008 and 2009 public buildings with DECs had reduced their energy consumption by 2% more than their private sector counterparts. Little surprise that, when becoming prime minister, David Cameron promised his government would extend the requirements for DECs to buildings in the commercial sector.

Despite this rollout to the private sector being supported by many representative bodies like the CBI and the British Property Federation, in 2013 Pickles reneged on his own prime minister’s promise. He announced he wouldn’t extend DECs to the private sector. This, his last initiative before losing office, is intended to row back even in the public sector.

Pickles was claiming that abolishing DECs might save public authorities £760,000 each year. That figure only considers the initial cost of the energy surveys. Acting in what can only be a deliberately perverse way, he clean forgot to consider any of the potential energy savings that would be forgone as a result.

One obvious example concerns the Department of Energy and Climate Change. When in 2005 it moved into its HQ at 3 Whitehall Place, its DEC had a rating of G. That caught the attention of many people who visited the building and could see the DEC hung up in the department’s foyer. The unflattering spotlight shone on that department played its part in stinging them into action. Subsequently they have since improved their building’s energy consumption to a rating of C, saving £156,000 annually on fuel bills in the process.

Those are the savings already achieved in just one building out of 54,000 covered by the legislation. The Association for the Conservation of Energy, of which I am the honorary president, has pointed out that the loss of five similar cases alone would already exceed Pickles’ “savings” estimate.

In addition, abolishing (or even extending all such certificates life to 10 years) would almost certainly place the UK government in breach – yet again – of two key directives: the Energy Performance of Buildings and the Energy Efficiency Directives.

I am confident that Greg Clark’s long silence on this proposal implies he too thinks his predecessor’s proposals foolish. Perhaps the best thing that could happen would be a short statement that the government has been persuaded by the vast bulk of the responses to its 2015 consultation. And now agrees that the better course is to strengthen, not abandon, the Display Energy Certificate system, by rolling it out way beyond just the public sector.

Andrew Warren is chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation