Ahead there is an opportunity to be grasped to put energy efficiency at the heart of recovery

A new normal will emerge from the coronavirus crisis. Ahead there is an opportunity to be grasped to put energy efficiency at the heart of recovery.  Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation writes in the May/June issue of Energy in Buildings & Industry magazine.

 

Shaping the world after lockdown

Will the world after lockdown make delivering energy efficiency easier or harder? How much have attitudes truly changed amongst households, amongst businesses, amongst bureaucrats, amongst politicians?

Will  this experience lead to an even greater determination to deliver a zero carbon society? Or will inbuilt inertia simply permit a  lazy reversion  back to business-as-usual? For instance, President Trump is authorising a bond bailout worth $750bn for American fossil fuel companies.

There are certain absolute changes that will hold. Beginning with  alterations in location for many white collar workers. Nobody will snigger any more at the concept of “working from home”. Every enterprise, private or public,  will be seeking  to minimise the amount of office space – and often retail space-  they need to occupy

Such a significant shift is signalled in the official Government  recovery strategy “Our Plan to Rebuild” : “Many businesses across the UK have already been highly innovative in developing new, durable ways of doing business, such as moving online or adapting to a delivery model.”

It continues :”Many of these changes, like increased home working, have significant benefits, for example, reducing the carbon footprint associated with commuting.” Perhaps. But  another consequence is that patterns and amounts of energy consumption will be changing, with more usage in homes owing to higher occupation levels, and (logically)  less in commercial buildings – assuming that energy management is optimised in them, not always true during lockdown.

For decades, the energy inefficiency of the UK’s housing stock has long been acknowledged, abroad as a laughing stock, at home as a real cause of concern. Every single serious commentator on energy policy, on climate policy, on social policy,  on health policy, on employment policy, has acknowledged  the enormous unmet potential there is for wholesale improvement.

It is now five years since the Conservative government created the National. Infrastructure Commission (NIC)  Amongst its consistent subsequent recommendations has been the strategic greening of the UK building stock, vital to meet the government’s statutory commitment to be running a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

Already amongst the oldest stock in the developed world, it is acknowledged that the vast majority of the buildings we shall be living and working in 30 years from now have already been constructed. Getting these improved is, if anything, an even greater priority than ensuring that every new construction is zero carbon.

So the NIC has been arguing  for several years that wholesale refurbishment of the building stock’s energy performance must be a quintessential infrastructure priority. This concept was immediately adopted by the Scottish government. But the UK government has remained largely noncommittal on the subject.

This March’s Budget promised that “later in the spring the government will publish a landmark National Infrastructure Strategy, which will set out plans for a once in a generation transformation of the UK’s economic infrastructure”  But spring has come, and gone.

Following pressure from the Commons’ Business Committee, which published yet another excoriating report on the absence of any purposeful residential sector energy efficiency  policy, the energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng  responded in deadbat fashion. He said, unsurprisingly  “The Government remains committed to taking the necessary action to improve energy efficiency. It is vital that we give these decisions the proper time and care they deserve” 

So last month Kwarteng  again was promising  that ”additional climate policies will be set out in due course and finalised in the context of a National Infrastructure Strategy, as outlined at the budget.” 

This prompted the government’s official environmental advisors the Committee On Climate Change (CCC) to  re-emphasise that installations of insulation in homes has dropped by over 90%.

Interviewed by the Business Green website, its’ CEO Chris Stark. emphasised that “ I think infrastructure policies should change coming out of a crisis like this. This is the time to be doing energy efficiency. I would love to see the government give this the priority it deserves,

He continued:” At a time when energy prices are falling, it might otherwise get less prominence. So now is the time to do it, because when energy prices start to rise,  when demand returns, we will wish that we had fixed the roof when the sun shone.”,

The CCC  argues that the nation’s “credibility as an international leader rested on taking action at home” ahead of the UK hosting the COP26 UN climate talks next year.

This is surely the time to invest in energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transport: a green recovery. Delivering green infrastructure and supporting the technologies of the future makes economic sense.

There are encouraging signs from ministers that, intellectually at least ,they unlike Trump recognise this. In the words of the co-chair of COP26, Business Secretary Alok Sharma: “Every country around the world will face a choice.  Between laying the foundations for sound, sustainable growth. Or locking in polluting emissions for decades.”

That is precisely the choice now facing the UK. These fine words must become purposeful actions. Energy efficiency must become a priority infrastructure investment.

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