Energy efficiency: the forgotten friend in the decarbonisation debate

By Catherine Hunter, Senior Account Manager, Aspectus Group 

Boris Johnson’s energy strategy has been on the cards for a couple of weeks now. As with many crises, the time to plan was yesterday and action is needed today.  

The squeeze on energy bills was being discussed before events unfolded in Ukraine and now this concern has been converted into a full-blown crisis. This week alone has seen France recording its second highest ever short-term energy prices. A global issue, that’s seen the UK Government consider how to reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels providing security and decarbonisation. 

Most in government plan policies to have an impact during the current five-year election cycle. But energy has always felt a bit different; decarbonisation and energy security are big issues to tackle. Building a big nuclear power plant (or eight as suggested in the strategy), or tidal lagoon project has felt like the legacy impact some ministers were looking for. The Capacity Market was partly introduced to provide a financial route to market for more large-scale gas power plants. For years, governments have grappled with the energy trilemma of how to keep the lights on with cheap, green energy. 

And yet, here we are. Talking about yet another crisis.  

Short term thinking

We are a week into the new price cap level and time is short to protect the public from October’s further rise. And so, we need to be considering short term options that can have an impact today. Building eight new nuclear plant takes years so, while a great option for future energy security, it still leaves many people feeling insecure today. 

One of the biggest areas of consumption for households in heating (63% in Britain). This spring the boiler upgrade scheme (BUS) comes into force. It will provide upfront capital grants to support the installation of heat pumps, and in some circumstances biomass boilers, in homes and some non-domestic buildings. The BUS will be open to properties located in England and Wales. 

Planned out in October of last year, it feels like a big step forward in removing inefficient boilers ahead of next winter. But an efficient boiler – or even heat pumps which are now cheaper to run than gas boilers – aren’t sufficient to keep the current cost of living crisis at bay. 

Energy efficiency 

Homes in Britain are amongst the “leakiest” in Western Europe. And sadly, this is a story that’s over a decade old. We’ve had the chance to improve our homes, to protect from rising costs and reduce reliance on fossil fuels and haven’t. 

And that leads us to wonder why.  

Cost is obviously a barrier, no renter will install double glazing as they won’t see the bill’s impact, and no landlord will install it as the property is still habitable without. And for those that own their home, if they have spare cash in the bank, a shiny, new kitchen will always win that debate. 

However, installing efficiency upgrades can shave hundreds off our bill every year so green backed loans are one solution to take the heat out of the initial decision, which the government could – and arguable should – have focused on today. 

The government isn’t wrong to look at onshore and offshore wind as a long-term solution, but the strategy doesn’t provide the security needed to improve bills today. And what’s better, once insulation is improved it keeps the heat in tomorrow too – providing a long-term energy reduction strategy.  

No one is going to suggest energy efficiency has the same cool credentials of purchasing a trendy, new electric vehicle to help with decarbonisation but some clever sustainable energy comms could go a long way to insulate consumers from the worst of the bills crisis. 

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