Britain’s energy transition: can the UK meet its 2030 energy consumption commitment?

As the European Union slashes its gas use by almost 20 per cent, the UK stubbornly refuses to follow suit. Could a lack of Government commitment be hampering progress asks Andrew Warren, Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, in a column in the April issue of Energy in Buildings & Industry magazine?


The energy hungry man of Europe

In 2030, the UK will be consuming 15% less fuel than we did at the start of the decade. That is now an absolutely firm government target.

The main problem is, right now the Government seems to be absolutely hell bent in ensuring that the commitment will not be met.  Every opportunity to pursue policies that would help realise that ambition is being ignored. It isn’t even a matter of not taking new initiatives. It is much more the failure to follow up on all too many existing policies.

To begin with, what has been the official response to the tripling of wholesale gas prices? It has been to concentrate upon subsidising consumption. The Treasury is still paying around one-third of the average householder’s fuel bills. Subsidising consumption has led to Government borrowing reaching its highest level in history.

Repeated warnings

It has coincided with repeated warnings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that the failure to reduce energy profligacy is the biggest energy contribution to the faltering drive to combat over-heating of the planet. “The most cost-effective and environmentally friendly option is to avoid unnecessary consumption,” warns the IEA.

They stress energy efficiency must be the ‘”First Fuel” in concerns about energy security. Whilst the UK remains a founder member of the IEA, that didn’t deter us from publishing a much-hyped new energy security strategy last year, concentrating entirely upon augmenting sources of energy supply. Saying absolutely nothing of substance about options on restraining energy demand.

Overall gas use in the 27-nation European Union plunged by a staggering 19.3% from August 2022 to January 2023, compared with the five-year average for the same period. In contrast, Britain reduced consumption by less than 1%. As Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London,  lead author of the quarterly Drax Electric Insights report on energy consumption , concluded : “The UK is an outlier on the world stage, showing no signs of reducing its appetite for gas during a time of dramatically higher prices.”

Stimulate energy efficiency

This Government was elected in 2019 promising to invest £9.3m in public funding to stimulate energy efficiency up to 2024. Strangely that figure seems to has been cut back to just £6bn.  Although the current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has probably ensured that initial pledge will be met, by offering last autumn to relieve the poor impoverished energy companies of any requirement to underwrite the costs of their Energy Company Obligation.

This is the latest incarnation of a 30-year-old programme , created following the “polluter pays” principle, requiring the purveyors of pollution to pay to install energy saving measures into homes. The size of the programme is now far lower in real terms that a decade ago. But it is now the only UK-wide programme trying to combat the scourge of fuel poverty. A scourge that according to the Warm Homes & Energy Conservation Act 2000 was supposed to have been eliminated by 2016. When that Act was passed, there were just over 2 million households reckoned to be fuel poverty. Current estimates are that this figure has actually quadrupled , with over 8 million households suffering.

Perhaps the most frustrating lacuna is the failure to follow up on existing programmes. Some examples: new buildings are still being construction to 2013 standards, ensuring even these will need serious retrofitting to ever be net zero .  The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 requires each housing authority to update annually its progress towards improving the existing building stock in this area. After initial enthusiasm, few bother- and crucially nobody in central government cares.

Similarly, since 2018 no building- commercial or residential- is allowed to be let out with an F or G energy performance certificate. Is this law really being policed? And back in 2020 ,the government published plans to expand this rental properties schemes to eliminate E and F ratings. But has failed to announce how or when it will actually implement these requirements.

Rejection without explanation

The Government has rejected without explanation or justification a sensible House of Lords amendment to its Social Housing Bill to require all housing associations to upgrade their tenants’ homes to a C rating by 2030. Display Energy Certificates are supposed to be updated annually, and displayed prominently in every publicly funded building visited by the public. It is obvious that is not happening, and not being enforced. Proposals by former Prime Minister David Cameron to roll such virtue (or vice) signalling out to larger similar private sector buildings have never been pursued.

Schemes to incentivise local government to get more involved wax and wane, with arcane application processes often wasting enormous time and resources. The Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme has never been promoted to become a catalyst for smarter energy efficiency programmes amongst SMEs. The list goes on. And on.

Both of the major vision schemes of the past decade , the Green Deal and the Green Homes Grant scheme, collapsed after an overnight withdrawal of political support. When the latter vanished, the National Audit Office published an excoriating report. It concluded by commanding the government to “ set out by the end of 2021 how its various energy efficiency schemes fit with its overall plans for decarbonisation, setting out timescales in a more detailed and longer-term plan”. Almost inevitably, nothing has happened in response. .Despite literally dozens of studies pointing out how such initiatives could become reality, generating energy and carbon savings, neighbourhood upgrading, employment And so on.

We now have an official government taskforce charged with realising that 15% reduction target this decade. Some are already asking whether that 15% reduction target is feasible? During the decade between 2005 and 2015, final energy consumption dropped by 16.2%.We have done it before. But are we prepared to make the tough decisions to do it again?

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