Despite rowing back on green policies, the UK has a positive story to tell
The new government has wasted no time in realigning priorities in the housebuilding and renewable energy sectors, and in the process has upset a number of businesses, lobby groups, individuals and politicians. Over the last few weeks the government has announced an end to the Zero Carbon Homes (ZCH) policy, the Green Deal Finance Company and subsidies for new onshore wind and for photovoltaic (PV) installations.
On the face of it, this looks like the government has followed through on the “green crap” rhetoric and jettisoned a raft of environmental policies. It is easy to criticise but the government was elected with a commitment to control spending and, importantly, to deliver more homes and minimise cost pressure on energy prices. The focus is now on building more homes, reducing energy costs and in the case of the Green Deal stopping a policy that hasn’t worked.
The ZCH policy would have potentially cost many millions of pounds to an industry that is under pressure to increase output. The headlines are a little misleading in that the ZCH policy will have to be implemented by 2021 in order to comply with a European Directive, so it’s more a delay in implementation rather than cancellation.
The government appears to be maintaining a commitment to meeting the carbon budgets and maintaining the trajectory to achieve an 80% carbon reduction by 2050. We should also remember that our energy use continues to fall (2.6% in 2014) and renewable electricity has risen to 19% of total generation.
The UK is going into the Paris 2015 negotiations with a positive story to tell - not least the fact that UK carbon emissions continue to fall despite a fast growing economy, demonstrating to the emerging economies that burning fossil fuels is not a prerequisite to growth.
While investment in new large-scale energy generation is needed to maintain security of supply into the future, it will always be more cost effective to reduce what we use. The message that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way of achieving our carbon goals, particularly in the housing sector, needs to be continually repeated.
Let’s wait and see what proposals emerge to deliver improvement to the building stock.
Nick Cullen is a partner in Hoare Lea