Contrasting Scotland’s approach to energy efficiency in buildings with England

As shown in another post this week, Scotland is not only giving a priority to renewable energy but also to energy efficiency. This is a well-appreciated approach to sustainable energy as a whole. Writing in the October 2016 edition of Energy in Buildings & Industry, Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, reviews developments in Scotland and contrasts them with the less-than-ideal approach in England. Maybe Scotland’s approach has lessons for many throughout Europe and abroad.


England must keep up with our neighbours

It seems that, ever since the UK general election in May 2015, practically all policy changes regarding energy efficiency from Whitehall have been deeply depressing. Whilst many affect the whole of the UK, some fortunately do not. Particularly for those based north of the Border, the entire atmosphere is far brighter.

For some years, the positivity of the Scottish Government towards energy efficiency has been a welcome antidote to the endless stop: start   approaches that have bedeviled London policy.

In contrast, the Scottish Government has responded by identifying improved energy performance of the building stock quite specifically as a declared National Infrastructure Priority. Which means that by 2030 every single existing building will be assessed to enable it to be upgraded, integrating programmes together to provide guaranteed multi-year funding.

Take the issue of fuel poverty. Back in 2000 both England and Scotland introduced legislation designed to eliminate this social scourge, where so many households have quite literally to choose between heating and eating.

Contrast the difference in delivery. Ever since 2012, in England there has been no government-funded programme to improve the energy performance of gas-guzzling homes occupied by low-income households. Whereas the Scottish government has continued to build upon its programmes, and has now practically doubled the money designed to upgrade homes in fuel poverty.

After fourteen months in post as the UK energy secretary, Amber Rudd has left behind a legacy of cancelled or reduced programmes – the Green Deal and the Energy Efficiency Carbon Reduction Commitment, both creations of the 2010/15 Coalition Government, were scrapped. The Energy Company Obligation, funded via energy suppliers, is reduced to a fraction of its original size and effectiveness. The zero carbon new buildings programme has been dropped.

She had long promised a formal relaunch of the Government’s energy efficiency strategy. That had been due before Christmas 2015, then this spring, and then “during the summer.” It has still to be issued. She left office having presided over one of the biggest declines in the marketplace for energy efficiency goods and services ever recorded.

Twelve months ago Amber Rudd abandoned the much-heralded Britain-wide pay-as-you-save scheme, Green Deal Finance, overnight.

In contrast, the Scottish Government has opted not just to stick with its declared zero carbon buildings programme and timetable. Additionally, it continues building upon its remarkable record of seeking to stimulate “investing to save”. It has just announced, at the end of September, a new Under One Roof fund to provide equity loans of up to £40,000 to home owners, in order to fund repairs and energy efficiency improvements.

Significantly, these loans only becomes repayable when the property is sold or ownership transferred, or by the householders’ estate upon death. The amount repaid will be linked to the value of the homes at the time the loan is repaid. In contrast to Green Deal Finance, there will be no monthly interest payments.

Announcing the initial pilot, Scottish Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said:   “Making sure everyone has access to a warm and affordable home is a priority for this Government. Which is why we have committed £500m over the next four years, meaning over £1bn by 2021, to tackling fuel poverty by improving energy efficiency.”

The Minister pointed out “our record investment is already resulting in 40% of Scottish homes now being in the top three energy efficiency ratings (A, B or C). That is an increase of 71% since 2010.”

Scotland has long had by far the most challenging climate change reduction target, of cutting its 1990 emissions baseline by 42% by 2020. The latest statistics reveal this is already being met. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has greeted that achievement as outperforming all other EU countries apart from Sweden. And by promising new legislation that will bind Scotland to achieving the even more ambitious target of a 50% emissions drop between 1990 and 2020.

Ensuring that sufficient policies exist to achieve this is not entirely in the hands of the Hollyrood government. Congratulating Scotland upon its achievements to date, the Committee on Climate Change has specifically warned that new climate and energy policies will be urgently needed to counter the possible loss of supportive EU level policies after Brexit – a procedure to which both the Scottish government and its electorate are bitterly opposed.

There remain powerful Scottish voices that argue for speeding up the declared national infrastructure building programme, to ensure that all the remaining 60% of existing homes below C grading are improved by 2025. According to research published by the Existing Homes Alliance, and backed by over 50 other Scottish organisations, doing so would create up to 9,000 extra jobs. Reorganising the Government’s declared £10bn capital investment programme over the next three years would deliver this.

Nonetheless, given the doom and gloom pervading the energy efficiency world throughout England, it is good to remember that the nearest neighbour is fast becoming a true European exemplar. And trying to ensure that at least some of that good practice is not just built upon. But also manages to at least trickle southwards.

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