The government’s failure to take action on insulating draughty homes has been criticised by the statutory body for energy consumers.
As millions of households brace for another round of energy bill rises after British Gas and EDF Energy hiked their prices, Citizens Advice said silence by ministers on energy efficiency plans would mean consumers lost out and insulation installers would go bust.
Zoe Guijarro, policy manager at the consumer group, told the Guardian: “I think it’s hugely damaging because we’ll have a lot of catchup to do. In the meantime we will have lost a lot of installers, who will have gone out of business – a lot of expertise. It’s not a shame – it’s shocking in this day and age, really.”
The government axed its flagship energy efficiency scheme in 2015 and has yet to replace it or signal what might come next. Guijarro said the black hole on policy could lead people to conclude energy efficiency is unimportant, even though experts view it as vital for cutting bills and carbon emissions.
Energy efficiency measures installed under government schemes have plunged
Measures installed under the Energy Companies Obligation and Green Deal
Guardian Graphic | Source: BEIS
“You have this whole radio silence, this missed opportunity where you could absolutely have that narrative around health and wellbeing, and benefits of having a warmer, healthier home. And the longer it goes on the more people think it’s not important,” Guijaro said.
The comments by Citizens Advice follow the government coming under fire for downgrading targets for insulating older homes with solid walls. The University of Exeter said the move meant it would take more than 400 years to upgrade the UK’s last uninsulated solid wall homes.
E.ON told the Guardian that the change could also restrict the help that vulnerable households received, and make the solid wall target more challenging to hit. The big-six energy supplier said a serious energy efficiency plan would help consumers more than a price cap, which it has vigorously opposed.
“Overall, as a country we need to bring the energy efficiency of homes up to the level that is right for the 21st century, and which could save many hundreds of pounds off the annual energy bill. This is a far more sustainable policy, which politicians should consider embracing as opposed to implementing a temporary market-wide price cap,” the company said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “We are investing £6bn into making homes more energy efficient, including schemes to provide insulation, as well as a further £320m to enable consumers and non-domestic users to participate in a trailblazing heat networks scheme.”
Industry and government are mulling how to reduce the climate change impact from heating, with energy efficiency considered a “no regrets” option.
The UK’s homes and businesses are overwhelmingly heated by fossil fuels, mostly gas. Energy UK, the big-six lobby group, last week urged the government to fund trials of low-CO2 alternatives, such as greener gases including hydrogen, heat pumps running off renewable electricity and local heat networks.
But experts said the switch to greener heat would not be as simple as the transition to low-CO2 power, which accounted for half of UK electricity supplied last year.
Mike Hemsley, senior power analyst at the government’s climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, said: “There’s a lot of barriers to installing efficiency and low-carbon heat.”
He added that it was also not clear yet whether there was a low-CO2 option that was cheaper than today’s heating systems.
The government’s experts seem to share that view. A report published on Friday by BEIS concluded there was a large degree of uncertainty over the best way to decarbonise heat, given limited information on the feasibility of the technologies, their cost and whether consumers would accept them.