Britain’s energy transition is a bumpy ride

Andrew Warren, Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, and a regular contributor to EiD, has written another excellent and thoughtful article on the Business Green website. Sadly, much of the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive that is an excellent foundation for the country’s energy efficiency strategy is going unenforced. While this is about Britain, EiD is sure that many other EU member states are facing similar issues. Have we lost all interest in meeting our Paris climate change obligations? When will be have a wake up call to these important, cost-effective measures?


Is the UK government failing to deliver on its own energy efficiency rules?

It is now 18 years since I was invited by the business directorate (DG Enterprise) of the European Commission (EC) to chair an inquiry into “Sustainable Construction and Energy Efficiency”. My (rather large) committee consisted of national civil servants, professionals from the construction sector, and EC officials.

We published our unanimous recommendations in 2001. And effectively these became the core of a new Energy Performance of Buildings directive. This was a law agreed by the national governments and the European Parliament within a breathtaking 11 months. The text was “strengthened” in 2010. Last year, as agreed under its Article 19, the directive was formally reviewed again by the EC with national governments.

The timetable to increase its effectiveness further is set for completion by early 2019. That is the year during which the present UK government has announced it intends to complete formal negotiations to withdraw from membership of the European Union. So theoretically this revision process is of marginal interest to UK citizens?

Er, no, not quite. For a start it is accepted that via the Great Repeal Bill, at least initially all European directives will remain in force in the UK. It will then theoretically be a case of establishing which directives are deemed still to be useful. With those considered otiose subsequently abandoned.

It is therefore still very pertinent to consider precisely what the present requirements of the EPBD are. And whether or not we in the UK are actually making the best use of – or even bothering to implement – what currently is the law of the land.

Essentially the provisions of the Directive cover the efficiency of energy used for space and hot water heating, cooling, ventilation, and lighting. This is in both new and existing residential and non-residential buildings.

Article 9 sets a deadline for all new buildings to be “nearly zero-energy buildings” by 2020; this includes all existing buildings undergoing major renovation.

Such deadlines are set to be achieved in each of the devolved nations. But to the palpable fury of Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, in 2015 all such requirements were – without prior warning or discussion – abandoned (at any rate in England) by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Current building codes remain nowhere near zero-carbon.

So, there is one obvious example of non-compliance. I fear there are far too many others.

Article 4 requires each government to provide an official comparative methodology to calculate cost-optimal levels for setting minimum standards of energy performance. For existing buildings, Article 7 states that these minimum energy performance requirements must apply whenever a major renovation is carried out, whatever the building size. It is dubious whether the final (2013) round of Building Regulations changes seriously delivers any of this.

Under Article 10, the government must publish and publicise, every three years beginning June 2011, all financial incentives available nationally to stimulate the take-up of such measures. Given the dearth of such publicly funded carrots, the latest list (due this summer) may be of distinctly limited value.

Then there are Display Energy Certificates (DECs). Under Article 13, every single public building over 250 sq. metres must display “in a prominent position” its energy rating. Despite this, in 2014 the government issued a public consultation proposing to abolish the need for DECs. This led to massive protests from energy professionals, pointing out how much public money the scheme was demonstrably saving. But here we are in 2017, and the relevant Department, Communities & Local Government, has yet to announce formally any conclusions to this consultation.

Meanwhile, it has become clear that few if any of the 50,000 relevant buildings are now bothering to acquire an up-to-date DEC, let alone display it. And even fewer Trading Standards Departments are bothering to check upon compliance.

Article 13 also requires every single private sector building over 500 sq. metres “frequently visited by the public” to display its energy rating. The UK government has taken absolutely no steps to date to require this. Despite some valiant attempts by charities like the National Energy Foundation to promote voluntary compliance, involvement even by the ostensibly most eco-aware of companies has been at best sporadic.

Article 16 requires regular inspection of heating and air-conditioning systems. Whilst even by 2011 the UK had developed standard report provisions for air-conditioning, there has been precious little take-up. And though the private rented sector has long required annual gas heating safety inspections, these still pay negligible attention to energy efficiency.

Articles 11 and 12 concern the issuing, and publicising, of Energy Performance Certificates. For property purchases, EPCs are (mostly) now issued. Tenants get a far worse deal: only one in four newly rented homes, and one in two leased commercial properties, have an extant EPC – even one 10 years old.

In short, we in the UK are lamentably failing to implement even the existing directive that we long since signed up to. Article 27 requires our government to introduce “effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties” for non-compliance with the directive. These don’t exist. Instead, failure to implement the EPBD purposefully means that all of us are paying the penalty of excess fuel bills, as we continue to occupy unnecessarily wasteful buildings.

The lead Department on delivery is the Communities and Local Government Department (DCLG). There are immediately five very specific questions that they need to answer in full. These are:

  1. What evidence does DCLG hold as to whether Article 12, covering the provision of energy performance certificates for buildings rented or leased is being complied with; recognising that failure to provide an EPC in such circumstances could permit wholesale avoidance of the imminent legal requirements for the upgrading of F and G rated private rented sector buildings?
  2. What evidence does DCLG hold regarding the levels of compliance with Article 13, which require the display of current energy certificates in prominent positions in both public and private sector buildings over 250 sq metres visited by the public?
  3. What evidence does DCLG hold regarding the effectiveness of the independent control system overseeing quality assurance of EPCs, as required under Article 18?
  4. Can DCLG demonstrate whether existing Building Regulations Part L standards satisfy requirements for nearly zero-energy buildings under Article 9?
  5. And, for good measure, the Business Department (BEIS) could also explain just how it is ensuring effective implementation of Articles 10 (issuing triennial details of financial incentives and market barriers); and Article 17 (definitions of independent oversight experts).

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive remains the law of the land. It really is not much good seeking to “take back control” if you aren’t managing to exercise effective “control” in the first place.

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