The Energy Efficiency First theme may be a priority elsewhere, but in Britain the priority for improved energy efficiency seems to be waning. Andrew Warren, a regular contributor to EiD and chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, provides an article on recent developments in the UK that are disturbing to say the least. This is particularly true as countries are supposed to be ramping up their energy savings activities to help meet our Paris climate obligations.
Is the government allowing UK energy efficiency gains to grind to a halt?
In the 10 years from 2005, overall energy consumption in the UK fell by 16.2 per cent. Meanwhile, petrol consumption dropped by 13.1 per cent; electricity use went down by 15.2 per cent; and the amount of natural gas sold plummeted by 32.8 per cent.
Given such drops in volume sales, it is unsurprising that the Big Six energy suppliers have been seeking to restore profits by upping unit prices, to such an extent that both the Conservative and Labour party election manifestos are expected to contain promises to introduce price caps per unit after the June 8 election.
However, new statistics published by the Business Department [https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/household-energy-efficiency-national-statistics-headline-release-march-2017] reveal just how much this welcome trend of declining consumption – for consumers, if not for suppliers – is being deliberately allowed to whither away.
These official statistics confirm just how comprehensively the marketplace for installing residential energy efficiency measures has dropped like a stone over the last three years.
They also reveal that, despite deliberately switching prioritisation only to those deemed to be living in fuel poverty, the precipitate decline in the overall level of activity is even leading to a serious reduction, by over two-thirds, in the absolute number of such impoverished households now being helped each month.
These alarming figures can be found amongst the detailed appendices contained within the BEIS Household Energy Efficiency National Statistics, which were released recently. The data contains details of the precise number of measures installed, as well as the number of homes improved, each month for the past four years.
The programmes covered predominantly involve the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), cashback schemes, and the Green Deal Finance Plans. During the three most recent months for which statistics are available, just 64,404 energy saving measures were installed across the UK. This can be contrasted with the totals of 222,879 and 251,222 measures recorded as installed during the third and fourth quarters of 2013/14.
Amongst the main measures reported, 35 per cent were cavity wall insulation, 24 per cent were loft insulation and 23 per cent were for boiler upgrades. Just seven per cent involved the installation of solid wall insulation – an approach that as recently as 2012 was deemed to be the government’s main priority for improving the energy efficiency of the housing stock.
The proportion of households benefiting from such improvements appears to be falling sharply. Whereas in March 2014 just fewer than 80,000 homes were improved, three years later the equivalent figure is down to just 14,700 – a drop of over 80 per cent.
This demonstrates clearly that even the modest commitment in the Conservative’s winning 2015 manifesto – promising to install energy efficiency measures in 200,000 homes each year – is nowhere near being fulfilled. At the time, this ambition had been derided as seeking less than half the rate of business activity achieved in 2012.
Depressingly, even though government attention re the English residential sector is being given almost exclusively to seeking to address fuel poverty, the number of households being reached under the official “affordable warmth” scheme has dropped from an average of 37,000 per month towards the end of 2013, to just 9,597 homes during February 2017.
At this rate, it will be well beyond the end of the century before all homes deemed now to be in fuel poverty will be assisted. No wonder that the legal commitment, made under the Warm Homes & Energy Conservation Act 2000, to eliminate fuel poverty in England by 2016, has had to be quietly forgotten by the Conservative-led government.
It is only recently that detailed quarterly statistics on domestic energy efficiency schemes have been made readily available. It should be noted that, had the numbers of energy conservation installations been recorded in such detail in earlier years like 2011 and 2012, these alarming percentage declines would certainly have been even larger.
It remains to be seen whether the energy consumption reduction trend, created in the initial years of this century, and so welcomed by everyone concerned with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is still continuing.
Or whether as a result of the current deliberate policy neglect, the UK is covertly linking itself with the Trump mantra, that a growing economy must automatically mean growing energy consumption.