It’s a simple enough equation. To permanently reduce your high household energy bills, cut down on the amount used in the first place. However, despite its simplicity, it is an amount that successive British governments have struggled to solve.
The UK’s record over the past ten years of upgrading its energy-inefficient housing stock – among the most leaky in Europe – is embarrassing. Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011 promised a “revolution” in British property development by 2020.
But program after program was fraught with problems. Many of the biggest ones, including Cameron’s groundbreaking “Green Deal,” have been scrapped, causing distress for businesses and climate groups alike.
The recent energy price crisis has sparked a new wave of institutional and political enthusiasm for Britain’s isolation. The government aims to cut energy use in buildings and industry by 15 per cent by 2030. Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to spend £6bn a year to upgrade 19m homes if he gets power.
Obviously, financing is important. But the failed policies of the past decade show that it is not always the decisive factor in the success or failure of energy efficiency programmes. Much can be learned from the past decade to ensure that the recent promised revolutions do not end, once again, in hasty retreats.
First, confidence. Today’s fitting industry is still feeling the effects of Cameron’s shocking decision in 2015 to prematurely end his groundbreaking Green Deal scheme.
Cameron had promised to upgrade 14 million homes over 10 years but in the end only 14,000 properties were improved. To be sure, the program’s design was problematic. The interest rates on loans for homeowners to do the work were very high. It involves a lot of paperwork. There have been some complaints of poor workmanship.
However, canceling the program rather than fixing the defects did long-term damage to an industry that was ill-equipped with the staff and materials to deliver it. Since then the installer’s workforce has shrunk dramatically.
The Installation Assurance Authority (IAA), a trade body, estimates that in 2012, government energy efficiency programs supported 54,000 jobs to carry out work such as loft insulation. Today, the jobs supported by smaller, publicly funded schemes – largely targeting social housing, local authorities and the fuel poor – are less than 10,000, according to their modelling.
In 2020, while a minister, Rishi Sunak launched a ‘Green Homes Grant’ voucher scheme offering homeowners in England up to £10,000 to work like a draft proofreader. But among the program’s problems was the lack of certified installers.
said Ed Mathew, campaign director at think tank E3G.
The second problem is overly complex politics.
Energy companies and installers have reported problems with one of the government’s existing programmes, the Energy Company Commitment (ECO). It aims to address the problem of fuel shortage by installing insulation and heating systems, and it is now in its fourth version. ECO4 launched in April 2022 and targets 450,000 home upgrades over four years.
By March, though, only 15,000 homes had been improved, according to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG), a coalition of energy and engineering companies.
The problems are stringent minimum requirements that make it difficult to find suitable properties, according to energy groups such as Eon UK. Such problems lead some installers to look for work elsewhere. However, government officials insist that there has been an increase in deliveries each quarter under ECO4.
Third, it’s not always easy to convince homeowners to do the work. Programs like the Green Deal suffered because homeowners at the time preferred financing extensions or a new kitchen, according to Noble Francis, director of economics for the Building Products Association.
That will always be stress. You can’t show off your cavity wall insulation to the neighbors. However, the government can do more to inform families about measures that are less intrusive and still make a difference, Francis said. For example, secondary or triple glazing.
We welcome recent efforts to fix leaky housing in Britain. Let’s hope the formula is finally broken this time around.