Government must bring rural energy efficiency levels up to scratch
Ahead of the opening evidence session by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee inquiry into energy efficiency, Calor highlights why prioritising rural home owners must take precedence.
Existing energy efficiency schemes, such as the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) are not sufficient enough to deliver the government’s aspirational EPC targets across all housing sectors, particularly rural homes.
Answers to recent parliamentary questions outline the scale of the challenge to get all off-gas grid homes to reach EPC Band C by 2035.
As of 2014, only 37,000 off-grid households were estimated to have an energy efficiency rating of A-C, while 373,0000 are at Band D, 448,000 are at Band E and 317,000 are at Band F or lower. This mean that only 3% of off-grid homes are at the required EPC level.
ECO’s under-delivery in the countryside is now catching up with the government’s wider Clean Growth policies. Statistics show that rural, off-grid homes which number 11% of all UK homes, have received only 3% of total ECO measures since the scheme began in 2013.
What does this mean? Research by National Energy Action and the Campaign to Protect Rural England found that rural areas are five years behind urban areas in terms of the energy efficiency of their homes.
While ECO3 is now targeting fuel poor homes, the current level of dedicated rural support currently stands at only 15%. Given total funding for ECO has reduced, it’s not possible for rural homes to catch up.
Furthermore, the potential costs on government and the homeowner could be eye watering. Independent modelling has shown that improving a typical off-grid rural home with a current EPC rating of ‘F’ up to a rating of ‘C’ could cost at least £15,000.
As government brings forward new regulations and policies that will reduce emissions from housing, parliament should recognise that rural off-gas grid homes, which have not equitably benefited from government energy efficiency schemes, are in line to face stricter targets sooner than their urban counterparts.
This surely isn’t fair, especially as off-gas grid homes cost more to retrofit than those connected to the natural gas network since they tend to be older, harder-to-treat and face harsher climate conditions.
What should government do? First, it needs to give rural off-gas grid home owners a level playing field and make sure they get their fair share of support to improve their homes.
Another quick win would be to make EPCs fit for purpose in the countryside, especially as they will underpin future regulations.
‘Miles per gallon’ is a commonly understood metric associated with the energy efficiency of a motor car; the same cannot be said about EPCs. If a building is reliant on a fuel other than mains gas (e.g. being off the gas grid), then it will result in a lower EPC score even if everything else about the building was identical; this is simply because all energies used to heat off-grid homes are more expensive that main gas. A home on the gas grid which achieves an EPC Rating of C, would ordinarily only achieve an E or F off-grid.
As we suggested in our evidence to the Committee, Calor is not asking for wholesale reform of the EPC, but for the Energy Efficiency Rating element of the EPC to be based on kWh/m2/year so that it truly reflects the energy efficiency of a property. Rural homeowners won’t then be penalised for not using main gas, nor will they have to pay over the odds for energy efficiency measures to reach the same EPC score their house would if it wasn’t off-grid.