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Tue, 11 August 2020

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The Chancellor’s statement is a good start, but what next for energy efficiency policy?

The Chancellor’s statement is a good start, but what next for energy efficiency policy?

The new £50 million social housing retrofit pilot only scratches the surface of the £3.8 billion Conservative Party manifesto commitment to upgrading these buildings, says Rockwool | Credit: Rockwool/ansharphoto/Shutterstock.com

ROCKWOOL

4 min read Commercial

While the Chancellor’s announcement this week is a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure we reach our net zero goals and deliver a truly green recovery.

With COP26 on the horizon, 2020 was hailed by global leaders as the “Year of Climate Action”.

Events quickly took over with Covid-19 shifting the public agenda and supplanting climate change as the greatest immediate threat to humankind.

Yet as governments around the world turn their attention to economic recovery packages, the spotlight is now on the nature of that recovery and the kind of economic future we want to build.

An increasing number of voices have warned against a repeat of the recovery from the last financial crash in 2008.

Global carbon emissions fell initially but were back at all-time highs by 2010. As a company with sustainability at our heart, ROCKWOOL was amongst the original signatories to the Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders letter to the Prime Minister urging the UK to build back better.

For us, the question is how to achieve the greatest economic and environmental impact in the shortest possible timeframe.

In order for Government to reach its net zero targets, making our homes more energy efficient is vital

We are encouraged to see that the Chancellor’s Summer Economic Update contains commitments to improving the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals. In the UK, 30% of all energy use and around 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions result from energy usage in homes

In order for Government to reach its net zero targets, making our homes more energy efficient is vital – 80% of the UK’s existing stock is likely to still be in place in 2050, so for the Government to make significant progress, it must tackle these buildings.

In addition to improving the environmental performance of our homes, investment in energy efficiency generates a range of important social and economic outcomes.

In launching the Green Homes Grant Scheme and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund, the Chancellor recognised the significant opportunities for job creation and we welcome this support at a time when the construction sector has been hard hit.

Yet while Wednesday’s announcements are welcome, they fall short of meeting the scale of the decarbonisation challenge we face.

As the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) has highlighted, retrofitting projects provide ‘shovel-ready’ jobs at a lower cost than other infrastructure projects.

Yet while Wednesday’s announcements are welcome, they fall short of meeting the scale of the decarbonisation challenge we face.

In particular, the new £50 million social housing retrofit pilot only scratches the surface of the £3.8 billion Conservative Party manifesto commitment to upgrading these buildings.

This is especially significant given the high incidence of fuel poverty in social housing.

Around 2.53 million households live in fuel poverty in England, with significant implications for the public purse resulting from people living in cold, damp homes that can cause respiratory and other illnesses. Age UK research has shown the NHS spends £1.36 billion a year on the consequences of cold homes.

While this is not new, the impetus is sharper after several months in lockdown. For millions of us, our homes have become our offices, schools, nurseries and gyms.

As we head towards a winter in which we’re likely to spend much more time at home than usual, making our homes affordable to heat is more critical than ever.

We must also ensure that any retrofitting schemes have quality and in-use performance at their heart.

That can only be achieved through long-term policies with lead-in times that give industry the confidence to invest in capacity and skills, rather than stop-start schemes.

Government should also create a series of long-term schemes and incentives to encourage building owners to undertake energy efficiency improvements to homes while setting ambitious minimum performance standards.

So how can we build back better and ensure Britain has the sustainable, efficient and healthy housing stock it needs? As founder members of the EEIG, we have set out a series of policy proposals that would transform the performance of the nation’s homes.

Firstly, energy efficiency should be designated as an infrastructure priority to strengthen coordination of delivery and unlock Government and private investment.

Government should also create a series of long-term schemes and incentives to encourage building owners to undertake energy efficiency improvements to homes while setting ambitious minimum performance standards.

This includes detailed recommendations on social housing that draw on deep delivery expertise and proven successes, such as the flagship renovation of Wilmcote House in Portsmouth to the retrofit version of Passivhaus standards.

While the Chancellor’s announcement is a step in the right direction, more must be done to ensure we reach our net zero goals and deliver a truly green recovery, including bringing forward the Government’s full £9.2 billion manifesto pledge for energy efficiency schemes in the National Infrastructure Strategy this Autumn.

Meanwhile industry stands ready to deliver on a programme of energy efficiency works with wide-ranging social, economic and environmental impact. It’s now crucial that we work together to convert this public and political commitment into tangible action.   

 

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