Voters want climate-friendly policies, however Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have both vowed to temporarily scrap the green energy levy, keeping the UK dependent on oil and gas
The next Prime Minister will enter office weeks before energy bills rise by another 60% at the start of October. Retrofitting our homes should be one of their top priorities.
A national programme to retrofit our homes will not only help us to meet net climate commitments by 2050, it will also help people struggling with bills. Failure to take home insulation seriously therefore represents a missed opportunity to tackle the compounding climate and cost-of-living crises.
Costs of household energy bills are at an all-time high, and energy analysts have predicted how these costs are only going to get higher. BFY Group claim a typical energy bill could hit £3,850 a year by next January. Household energy bills are projected to cost £500 for a month next year. According to Reuters, these prices will push 8.2m people into energy poverty. That equates to one in three British households.
The UK has the worst insulated homes in Europe. If we want to reduce heat demand and save money, home insulation is an urgent issue which our next Prime Minister must address.
Last month, the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) reinforced the importance of increasing household thermal efficiency. Their annual report promoted measures like smart heating controls, cavity wall insulation, external insulation and electric heat pumps.
Admittedly, home insulation is not seen as the ‘sexiest’ policy. This could be one of the reasons why home energy efficiency improvements are “the most significant policy gap in the buildings sector”, according to the CCC.
Chris Stark, CEO of the CCC, described the government’s lack of delivery in this area as a “stunning fail”.
Despite how the drumbeat for insulation is sounding louder than ever, this seems to be an opportunity that government keeps failing to grasp. It was only this week that the UK scrapped £1 billion funding for an energy efficiency scheme targeted at poor households.
In the race to become Britain’s next Prime Minister, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have also both vowed to temporarily scrap or ‘relieve’ the green energy levy. Green levies provide investment for insulation, renewable technologies and other energy efficiency schemes. To scrap them is incredibly short-sighted, and has been described by many analysts and researchers as a “kneejerk reaction”.
Scrapping green levies, which would fund home energy efficiency, will only keep us dependent on oil and gas for longer, therefore hindering both a green transition and economic progress. The only permanent solution is to ramp up investment in renewables and start insulating homes. We need only look back at David Cameron’s 2013 decision to axe support for home efficiency measures to see this.
The year 2013 is understood as the last time when energy prices were hitting headlines in significant ways. Famously, David Cameron’s answer to rising bills was to “get rid of the green crap”.
One of the climate policies (AKA “green crap”) scrapped under Cameron’s government was spending on energy efficiency home improvements. According to the CCC, the number of homes getting their lofts or cavity walls insulated each year plummeted almost immediately — by 92% and 74% respectively.
This means that where Britain was insulating around 2.3m homes in 2012, only 230,000 homes have been insulated every year since 2013.
In 2022, we are certainly feeling the long-term impacts of this short-term thinking. An array of evidence makes the negative implications of these impacts impossible to deny. The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) showed that households could have saved a combined £1.5 billion this year if insulation continued to be installed at the same rate as a decade ago.
In fact, if insulation was being installed at the rate seen in 2012, up to nine million extra homes would have been upgraded. This would have saved each household an estimated £170. In short, bills that are now £170 higher than they would otherwise have been.
Of course, it feels pointless to fixate about hypothetical cost savings without taking meaningful action to change the situation.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better”, as William Blake once said.
Blake’s judgment encapsulates a frustration that many of us are now feeling. Why do we keep repeating the same mistakes? Have we not yet grasped the long-term impact of political decisions characterised by short-term thinking?
Clearly, energy efficiency policies make political and economic sense. Energy efficiency schemes, reduced dependency on fossil fuels and a deployment of renewables cut bills, tackle the cost-of-living crisis and create jobs.
Polling also reveals that climate-friendly policy is what voters — across the political spectrum — desperately want. Research by the Conservative Environment Network showed that 2/3 Conservative voters are proud of the UK’s role in tackling climate change.
Where the UK government lacked the ambition to deliver on energy efficiency in 2013, surely rising gas prices have only reinforced the case for insulating our homes in 2022.
Slashing home insulation translates to higher energy bills, not higher energy savings.
Certainly, UK household energy bills would not be so high today if we had kept the “green crap”.