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Efficient? The majority of our homes are energy hopeless

© Shutterstock / Maren Wintercresswell column
'The companies quoting must be living on Cloud Cuckoo land"... Jeremy is pricing out solar panel installation on his home.

Last month the UK Government published its British Energy Security Strategy.

Watch or listen to the news, or browse newspapers or social media and you could be forgiven for thinking that energy efficiency had been left out.

The headlines blared nuclear and oil & gas and big wind and hydrogen and the lack of support restoration for onshore wind, but none of the broadcasts I saw said anything about energy efficiency.

You know … that broadly, not particularly expensive easy win when it comes to reducing energy bills and improving domestic and workplace comfort.

Which is really rather odd considering that the headlines have for weeks been screaming rocketing energy prices day-in, day-out and rightly ridiculing the poor effort made by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to ease the pain with an energy bill loan system that he had the gall to claim was no such thing.

For someone prominent to point out that the Energy Strategy in fact does contain reference to energy efficiency would have been useful.

Well Sky TV thought it was on to something the day before the strategy was published.

It claimed that Sunak (aka The Great British Treasury) had blocked a proposal to expand a scheme to upgrade household insulation and energy efficiency.

Sky reported that Number 10 and business ministers were calling for an expansion of the Energy Company Obligation (Eco) scheme – which uses money raised from a levy on energy bills to pay for home efficiency improvements for the poorest – to feature in the energy security strategy.

Moreover, the proposal, which would have expanded the scheme beyond people receiving benefits at a cost of around £200m a year, had been halted by the Treasury.

Sky blamed Sunak, claiming he had rejected the plans as he aims to continue to abide by his spending agreements.

And yet a government spokesman responded by saying: “We are investing over £3billion over this parliament to help improve energy efficiency in almost 500,000 low income households, delivering an average saving of £300 a year on bills.”

The strategy says the Eco scheme would be expanded to “£1billion per year from 2022 to 2026, helping 133,000 low-income households annually to improve their energy efficiency.”

So which is it? I’m confused.

Give the Tories their due … and I do this grudgingly, the paper places energy efficiency right at the front of the report. It seems to say that enhancing energy efficiency is a great thing to pursue. And it’s cheap!

“We want to continue making UK homes more comfortable and cheaper to run,” says the document. “Every therm of gas saved grows our energy security and brings jobs to the UK.

“On cost, there are many measures for reducing energy bills including cavity wall insulation, which typically costs between £1,000 and £3,000. Measures that improve the efficiency of our homes, on average, reduce bills by £300.”

Well, I’ve been out there pricing changing out our excellent open hearth fireplace that burns wood brilliantly to an enclosed wood burner. Every quote has been a bloody sight higher that the cavity wall insulation cost claimed by the Tories. Like £6k for example!!

We’re sticking with the hearth.

I’m also pricing solar panels as we have a rather nice south facing roof on which to place them. Guess what. The companies quoting must be living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

If a wood burning stove was nuts, PV quotes so far have been plain crazy and like hen’s teeth.

And so back to enhancing insulation.  Well, we have a snowdrift of glass wool in the loft. Apparently we also have rudimentary cavity insulation.

But I’m worried about that as we live in a timber-framed bungobox; and the contractor who carried out additional loft insulation some years ago on a grant scheme said it wasn’t possible to upgrade the wall insulation because of the timber-frame style of construction.

Let’s assume the guy was right; surely there’s another way? Like a high thermal efficiency product that could replace all outer wall plasterboard … I’m not concerned if it’s a few millimetres thicker.

Our sitting room has a long wall facing north … it would be an ideal candidate for such a plasterboard substitute. And the study and two sides of the main bedroom. A blown wallpaper style plastic foam is not what a mean … cheap and nasty stuff that it is.

Simple fact:  A lot of our Euro-neighbours live in far more energy efficient accommodation than do the Brits.

The majority of our homes are energy hopeless. Improving the efficiency of our homes could reduce our heating bills by around 20% and reduce our dependency on foreign gas.

A massive, sustained, long-term energy efficiency drive is really badly needed; cheaper, simpler and far better value for money and environmentally more responsible than new nuclear plant with all the legacy waste issues that will invariably go with.

I note that the strategy says the current government is looking to facilitate low-cost finance from retail lenders to drive investment in energy efficiency measures and that there are currently around 40 green mortgage products available to consumers wanting to make green home improvements.

The government claims it will double innovation funding for the “development and piloting of new green finance products for consumers from £10 million to £20 million and introduce a scheme under which lenders will work to improve the energy performance of the properties against which they lend.

“We will also work with the UK Infrastructure Bank as it considers investment opportunities including those that would improve the energy efficiency of our buildings.”

But it says nothing about putting money into actual technology development … like tomorrow’s super-thermal, safe plasterboard replacement. For manufacturing here in the UK, dare I say it.

That’s a pity.

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