Lots of room for improvement
As energy use and greenhouse gas emissions rise once more, the efforts in England in particular have been woeful. Last year, only 1% of new homes were at the highest Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) A rating level. For existing stock, the number of homes that were insulated was down 95%, with government funding at half its 2012 level. In England, this equated to €9 per person for home energy efficiency. Austria tops the table in Europe at €85; Scotland is a commendable €39.
For England and Wales, the annual funding gap to move the owner-occupier and private rented sectors (more than 80% of all homes) to EPC C is estimated at £5.2 billion, of which £1 billion of public finance would be needed to incentivise the rest of the investment.
Pedro Guertier, senior policy adviser at E3G, an independent climate change think-tank, says there is an urgent need to close the policy gap. It requires a long-term action plan, robust regulation that ensures all homeowners take action, and adequate funding, with incentives for householders, such as adjusting stamp duty to reflect the energy performance of homes.
Local authorities should have a key role, to tackle fuel poverty, encourage local supply chains and offer strong advice. At present, says Guertier, the advice is “half a phone line and a website”.
A lot of time, money and effort to date has gone into schemes that haven’t delivered. They have been piecemeal, it has been hard to work out eligibility and they have been complex to adopt. A lot, including the UK’s Warmer Homes fund, have been centred on gas connections and new boilers – so with the risk that what is put in today will need to be ripped out again in 10 or 15 years’ time.
The skills gap
Dr Alice Owen, associate professor, business sustainability and stakeholder engagement at the University of Leeds, emphasises the need to bring along the small builders and other specialists that dominate the renovation sector. There needs to be “positive action to support them, not just the hope they’ll magically see the light. All the technology investments in the world are no good if we don’t have the people to deliver.”
She feels that small businesses would welcome relevant regulations that level the playing field in terms of the quality and cost of projects. Local authorities should be enablers and advisors but their planning departments have been “stripped to the bone and beyond”.