Wake up call – Complacency is the biggest energy challenge!
In writing the UNISON’s new energy report Warm homes into the future, I began to really appreciate the urgency of the energy challenges we face in the UK. Not only do we need to address the disgrace of fuel poverty and meet our climate change obligations, but the broader concerns of energy security are growing ever more pressing as we look at the deteriorating situation in the Ukraine and Middle East.
My generation like no other has benefited from a cheap source of energy which revolutionised how we heat our homes and cook our food. The development of North Sea Gas was a game changer in its day, but despite a recognition that in time this would start to run out we did very little to prepare ourselves, and our homes, for that day.
Looking forward to 2020, we are likely to be importing over 70% of the gas we need and this imported gas will be less price stable than North Sea Gas has been for us.
If only we had used some of the huge returns from the North Sea to invest wisely, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. As it stands, UK homes are amongst the worst in the developed world for wasting energy and consequently the most vulnerable to price increases. Years of having the lowest energy prices in Europe (still on average the second lowest in Europe) instilled a level of complacency in policy making that will come to be seen as one the great mistakes of our time.
It’s a national scandal that average UK homes lose three times more heat than homes in Sweden due to the poor insulation, and that a sixth (15.9%) of the UK population live in what is classed as a ‘leaky home’ with damp walls/floors/foundations, rotten window frames or a leaking roof. It is certainly not acceptable that in England alone 6.72 million homes fall into the lowest three bands (E,F & G) of the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating scheme.
So to address this we’re advocating an ambitious programme of works to ensure every UK home meets an EPC Band C rating by 2030. It would include; a free EPC assessment delivered to every UK home on a door to door basis, free remedial works for low income householders (£10k cap) and interest free loans for middle/higher income householders.
A programme as big as this would virtually eradicate fuel poverty, significantly reduce overall gas consumption and imports, and reduce carbon emissions, but it would also create over 130,000 jobs and increase economic growth. Although there would be significant up-front cost (much of which is already in the system) the longer term prognosis is that such a programme would be cost neutral or even revenue positive when we look at what happened with the KfW programme in Germany.
So let’s shake ourselves out of the complacency that has bedeviled this country for far too long. Today’s energy problems and tomorrow’s energy challenges are going to need long term vision and a real sense of ambition if we’re to turn the UK around.