Government policy on home energy efficiency must take a much more radical approach if the UK is to meet its climate change targets
The impetus to “green” our homes is growing, but is the government really on track to realise its aim, that by the end of the next decade all our homes will have achieved their “energy efficiency potential”?
WWF believes that such an aim, while challenging, is eminently achievable. But the extent to which we can transform the poorly insulated, energy-inefficient housing stock into low-carbon homes is heavily dependent on how much the government is prepared to invest now in a significant programme of training, innovative financing, and policy support for low- and zero-carbon technologies.
Our existing homes may have the potential to become low-carbon, but only if we see a radical change in government policy.
A range of financial incentives, coupled with tighter regulation and an enhanced obligation on energy suppliers, is essential.
Finding appropriate solutions for homes already built is vital if we are to meet the UK's targets on climate change. Our homes are, after all, responsible for nearly one-third of all CO2 emissions in the UK, and because of their inefficiencies are penalising homeowners through high energy bills.
Having driven progress on new-build environmental standards with its One Million Sustainable Homes Campaign, WWF is now turning its attention to existing housing stock and has just published a report with the Centre for Sustainable Energy and the Association for the Conservation of Energy looking at the potential CO2 savings that can be achieved from this sector.
The results are both positive and damning. Positive, in calculating that our homes could in theory achieve an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, yet damning in its conclusion that we stand little chance of making this happen under current government policy.
Our calculations show that the government will fail to achieve its 2020 climate change targets for the residential sector
Indeed, our calculations show that the government's reliance on a limited vision of what measures are “cost-effective”, such as cavity-wall, loft, and hot-water cylinder insulation, means it will fail to achieve its 2020 climate change targets for the residential sector.
One thing is clear. The government needs to take a more holistic approach when it comes to greening our homes. We urge it to look beyond the short-payback energy-efficiency measures that feature in current policies and focus on the measures that will provide the greatest savings for homeowners, the economy, and ultimately the planet.
A range of financial incentives, coupled with tighter regulation and an enhanced obligation on energy suppliers, is also essential to lever the necessary step change in home energy efficiency that government policy is failing to deliver.
We stand little chance of reducing emissions by 80% before 2050 under current government policy
The UK would do well to follow the example of its European neighbours. Germany has had great success with its low-interest loan scheme for energy-efficient refurbishments, and German and Spanish homeowners are encouraged to generate their own renewable energy at home by receiving a fixed and substantial price for electricity they feed into the national supply.
The Chancellor's recent budget notably omitted to introduce any of these incentives, or rebates on council tax - which have had a successful rollout across many local authorities in the UK.
Undoubtedly, there are steep hills to climb in the level of training, investment, and support required to facilitate the nationwide rollout of low- and zero-carbon technologies, but without it we will not make the requisite cuts to avert the worsening ravages of a changing climate.
Simon McWhirter is homes campaign manager at WWF-UK