If the government thought that its headline-grabbing Energy Strategy would receive a comfortingly warm reception it may have been disappointed.
Headlined in its press release as a ‘major acceleration of homegrown power in Britain’s plan for greater energy independence’ the strategy comes at a time when the soaring cost of all fuels is contributing to rising inflation and major hikes in the cost of living.
On top of that, the unspeakably appalling war being wrought by Putin upon Ukraine has highlighted how foolish many European nations have been in gradually becoming so reliant on a country headed by such an aggressive and unpredictable leader to supply a large proportion of their energy needs.
Given the recent track record of the UK government in relation to energy matters it is hardly surprising that there are some reservations among interested parties about just how effective this new strategy will actually be.
Gillian Charlesworth, CEO, Building Research Establishment (BRE):
“The Energy Security Strategy was a supply-side strategy whereas we are facing an urgent demand-side problem.
“Whilst we welcome measures to bolster the long-term security of the UK’s energy supply, the plans outlined today do not represent a whole-hearted commitment to transitioning as quickly as possible to renewable energy and will do little to address two of the biggest challenges we currently face: tackling rising energy costs and improving the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings.”
“The UK has one of the oldest and least energy-efficient building stocks in Europe, which unnecessarily inflates demand for natural gas.
“Accelerating the roll-out of retrofit measures like insulation is a short-term solution that could address spiralling bills and significantly improve the energy efficiency of our housing stock, but it is disappointing to see that this has not been covered within the Strategy.”
“The need to accelerate the roll-out and investment into insulation extends beyond housing.
“With nearly a fifth of all gas being consumed by the non-domestic sector, a lack of any retrofit strategy will result in higher costs for our businesses and public infrastructure – including schools and hospitals.
“This will ultimately be felt by households, who will have to bear the brunt of higher prices.”
“Aside from keeping consumers’ energy bills down and reducing their carbon footprint, retrofitting homes is a fast and cost-effective strategy to reduce demand for natural gas and will help to support the UK’s energy security.
“Recent announcements such as the abolition of VAT on some energy-saving materials are a welcome start. However, without a clear plan and funding to upgrade the UK’s building stock, our energy security strategy cannot be driven forward effectively – and we will quickly lose momentum on the drive to net zero.”
Timothy Douglas, Head of Policy and Campaigns for Propertymark, said:
“The long-term view the Energy Security Strategy takes, disappointingly fails to deliver any new funding or commitments that will support the urgent need to make the UK’s homes more energy-efficient.
“Improving energy efficiency can be a quick fix if we want to reduce our reliance on imported energy, by delivering lower energy consumption and cutting householders’ bills.
“Helping property owners to meet any new energy efficiency targets is essential if the UK is to reach its net-zero ambitions, as our housing stock is amongst the least energy efficient in Europe and still responsible for around 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The commitment to provide a comprehensive energy advice service is welcome, but we would again call on the UK Government to go further and develop a national retrofitting programme linked to realistic and achievable targets and tailored, long-term grants that take into account the age, condition, and size of properties.
“Unless homeowners get this support soon, it is unlikely any real progress will be made in helping them to cut their energy consumption or carbon emissions.”
Propertymark co-sponsored Lagging Behind, a report that looked at the scale of the challenge to retrofit the UK’s housing stock to meet energy efficiency ambitions.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) expressed dismay that much-needed energy efficiency measures have been excluded from the strategy but has welcomed the ambition to improve the UK’s long-term energy security. In a statement it said:
The government’s new strategy aims to reduce the UK’s reliance on oil and gas, especially imports, by creating eight new nuclear reactors, with a new body overseeing their delivery. It also outlines plans to speed-up approvals for new offshore wind farms and for the doubling of targets for hydrogen production to support cleaner energy for industry as well as for power, transport and potentially heating.
The UK Government has also announced that it may reform the rules for installing solar panels on homes and commercial buildings to help increase the current solar capacity by up to five times by 2035.
A key element of the new strategy to improve the UK’s energy security is further developing domestic oil and gas production with a new licensing round for North Sea projects in the summer.
Whilst the strategy includes some small additional funding for heat pumps it does not include any new proposals or support for energy efficiency measures to help alleviate the spiralling cost of living crisis.
Tamara Sandoul, Policy and Campaigns Manager for CIEH is critical of the strategy:
“It is positive to see the Government unveil a plan to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and improve the UK’s energy security. This is an ambitious plan, particularly when it comes to clean energy generation, which is urgently needed to achieve the long-term ambition of achieving net-zero.
“However, energy security that is based on fossil fuels can only be short term if the government heeds the warnings in the latest IPCC report published earlier this week.
“In addition, the energy strategy is unlikely to do much in the short term to alleviate the hardship for many people struggling with high energy bills and is undermined by the lack of funding allocated for energy efficiency in homes. This will be devastating for many poorer households when Winter comes.
“It is a missed opportunity not to use the next 6 months to accelerate the installation of insulation measures in homes to prepare for the winter months. The Treasury has many questions to answer about why these steps are not being funded.
“The UK urgently needs is a long-term investment strategy into energy efficiency measures for homes. This should include grants, zero-interest loans, and other incentives for households, across all tenures to reduce their energy demand as well as assist with the transition to renewables where this can be achieved.
“Previous short-term schemes like Green Homes Grant failed to deliver because industry were not prepared and schemes were not well designed. However, the principles were good and should now, more than ever given the climate emergency and the latest IPCC report, be revisited as a matter of urgency.”