by Mari Martiskainen
“We need to see energy efficiency as part of the nation’s infrastructure programme”.
This was the charge of Ed Davey, Liberal MP and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Davey was speaking at an Association for the Conservation of Energy event to say thanks to outgoing director Andrew Warren, often referred to as the cheerleader of the UK’s energy efficiency industry. The event also served as a welcome for new director, Dr Joanne Wade.
The event was held at the House of Commons on September 2nd.
Similar words were heard last week from opposition leader Ed Miliband who announced that Labour would insulate 5 million homes in the next ten years. That is 500,000 homes a year- not an easy task, especially considering that the current government’s ‘flagship’ energy efficiency measure, the Green Deal, has failed to deliver.
The latest statistics released for the Green Deal in September 2014 show that since January 2013 when the programme was introduced, 326,884 Green Deal Assessments have been recorded. However, in August 2014, there were only 4,737 Green Deal Plans in progress, of which 2,092 had a ‘live’ status, i.e. all measures having been installed.
Davey asserted that the journey for maximising the uptake of energy efficiency measures “has not been a smooth one”, and admits that there is much to learn, especially from the Green Deal. He also called for a healthy debate from people who are passionate about the subject and welcomed comments and views especially on energy efficiency regulation.
Given that the UK has included energy efficiency in its energy policy since the 1970s, there has not been a lack of debate to date. As most in the sector would agree, energy efficiency is still the cheapest way to deal with energy related emissions and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
But what does having energy efficiency as the nation’s infrastructure programme actually mean or look like? There were no concrete answers from Davey, but more call for discussion and debate. Would it be similar to the 1990s Dash for Gas, so that street-by-street houses would be insulated to the best standards? And more importantly, who would pay for that, given that the government today is more interested in market based loan instruments, such as the Green Deal, while householders themselves are unlikely to want to pay, something that we have witnessed over the years.
Or perhaps, as Davey also suggested, it could mean having a debate about using council tax rebates for those who undertake energy efficiency measures. Miliband, on the other hand, indicated that Labour would give power to communities to insulate homes, while also providing 1 million interest-free loans for energy efficiency measures.
Davey underlined the need for a serious debate about the role of energy efficiency regulation, competition and innovation before the next general election in May 2015. It seems that the Liberal Democrats and Labour have already started that debate.
However, unless the lessons from the flop of the Green Deal are really taken into consideration and we get government at the highest level post-election advocating the importance of energy efficiency, there is a danger that energy efficiency will remain the invisible solution that everyone sort of knows about but no one is really prepared to fly the flag for.
Mari Martiskainen joined the Sussex Energy Group at SPRU in 2006. Her research has included topics such as community energy, consumer behaviour and debates surrounding new and old energy technologies, such as nuclear power and microgeneration. She is an affiliate PhD Researcher of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and currently works for the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand,
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