The government wants homes to be energy efficient and to cut fuel poverty – but are its policies working?
It sometimes feels that there is more heat than light in government policies on energy efficiency. The wholesale changes made by the coalition mean that it’s been difficult to work out what impact policies are having. A new batch of official figures helps to show whether targets are being met.
The government’s latest energy statistics give a snapshot of progress in meeting UK carbon targets and in tackling energy efficiency and fuel poverty. The domestic sector has a vital role because, after transport, it’s the biggest energy consumer. And it’s far easier to save energy by insulating older houses than, say, by making cars that are already on the road more fuel efficient.
Government has a long-standing target to cut UK carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. It is working towards this by setting so-called ‘carbon budgets’, of which the latest runs to 2027: by that date emissions should have fallen by half. These targets are extremely ambitious, but at first sight the statistics suggest they are achievable. The first graph shows that emissions in the period to 2012 were just within the current carbon budget.
There’s no room for complacency, however. The Committee on Climate Change has just warned that progress is threatened by the slowing down of the drive towards greater energy efficiency, notably in the insulation of homes.
The second chart shows how installations have levelled off after steady progress late into 2012. Last year installers were still taking advantage of the old incentive schemes, but now the main scheme is the much more complicated Green Deal whose uptake has been alarmingly slow. As the Guardian report in May, whereas in April 2012 nearly 50,000 homes were given cavity wall insulation, in April this year the number had crashed to just 1,138.
What progress is being made in tackling fuel poverty? As with emissions, the coalition inherited targets from the Labour government which so far it has retained. It was supposed to eliminate fuel poverty in ‘vulnerable’ households by 2010 and ‘as far as reasonably practicable’ for all households by 2016. The 2010 target was missed and the same will almost certainly happen to the 2016 target, even though (as the third chart shows) some progress is being made.
The government has now launched a new measure of fuel poverty, and its statistics show progress towards tackling both. On the new measure, there has also been a slight improvement. However, the ‘fuel poverty gap’ (the difference between energy costs for the fuel-poor and average energy costs) has increased and in 2011 stood at £448 per year.
Progress on fuel poverty is scrutinised by the Energy and Climate Change Committee in its latest report. It says there is far too much emphasis on short-term help in paying bills, and not enough on proven insulation measures which bring long-term benefits to consumers. It criticises government for replacing the efficient, taxpayer-funded incentive schemes with ones dependent on levies on bills, which can undermine the help given to fuel-poor households.
One bright spot in the energy figures is the increase in the use of renewable sources – from just over one per cent to 4.1% in eight years. But this can’t replace the faltering progress in insulating the housing stock.
The new incentive schemes have to lead the drive to get emissions down by at least 3% annually if the carbon budgets and the 2050 target are to be met. Unless government can find ways of boosting programmes like the Green Deal, its targets will look increasingly unrealistic.
Original post: Chartered Institute of Housing Blog