In the real world the targets for reducing carbon emissions from the existing housing stock will not be met

Recently I was talking to a conference organiser about the issues around upgrading the energy efficiency of the UK’s existing housing stock. I expressed my doubts about the basic deliverability of the EU’s and the UK Government’s carbon reduction targets within their stated time-scale, and the organiser asked me to write a brief to inform their panel chairman during the discussion sessions.

These are the Key Pointers which I set out:

“ I believe that most, if not all, desk top studies on the costs of upgrading and retrofitting insulation to existing homes underestimate the actual costs. They seem to ignore: the costs of removing and refitting radiators, skirting-boards etc; of redecorating; the costs of removing and storing furniture and belongings to give room for the works to be carried out; the costs of removing things stored in the loft, storing them and putting them back.  In other words the consultants seem to think no one lives in these homes, and that people redecorate a complete home in one go, and assume that retrofitting insulation will always coincide with this redecorating and/or the gutting of kitchens and bathrooms and their refitting; so they fail to count these costs. However, real people understand this and don’t want the disruption and can’t afford the total costs.

If the experts answer the above by saying that all this can be addressed and avoided by fitting external insulation, they  ignore the fact that many people buy their home because of the way it looks externally and don’t want brick replaced by render.

The studies ignore the fact that people store things in their lofts, and put them back there after the insulation upgrade which compresses it and thus doesn’t work as predicted by the theory.

The studies ignore that fitting new gas boilers may not be as simple as a straight swap. It may be necessary to fit a bigger gas supply pipe, and this means taking up floor coverings and floor boards, and if this is not possible major re-routing and thus costs.

The studies ignore the fact that many people don’t want the disruption – they don’t want it even if the work is done for free, and will live with higher energy bills. This isn’t new – in the past local authorities funded toilets and bathrooms but many old people said ‘no thanks – I don’t want the mess’.

We need to remember that for energy to be useful if has to cheap enough to use, and thus cheap enough to ‘waste’ at at least some level and to some extent. So, trying to price people into upgrading their energy efficiency will be a very slow process with those who can afford to do so choosing ‘waste’ over inconvenience, and those who can’t suffering from more and more fuel poverty.

The sales methods used – cold calling/telephone cold calls from firms you have never heard of – all appear as if they are from a bunch of ‘cowboys’ and are going to be the next mis-selling scandal, so I know of no-one who will talk to them. Contact and sales calls from names you know, such as the energy suppliers, are assumed to be over-priced rip-offs and also likely to be mis-selling.

So, in summary, the government has based policy and their targets on studies which ignore the human factor. Their targets were always undeliverable.

I am not sure if there is a simple answer, apart from making it obligatory to do the upgrading when a home is sold (or at tenant change) but this means it will take many years to hit the target which the Government wants – but it is going to take far longer than they want to anyway to meet their target at existing rates of take-up.  In any event, upgrade at a house-sale still involves disruption and extra costs (people will have to be out of at least one home while the work is done; and the costs may not be affordable – unless this is reflected in lower sales prices and this isn’t going to be popular).

On top of all this, there is evidence (but this isn’t talked about much) that the predicted level of energy savings (and thus £ savings) do not materialise: after a while people spend their additional income on higher temperatures (or other energy use) anyway. The £12bn smart meter programme will turn out to be a scandal – the energy and cost savings will not materialise (or will be very small), and the energy companies get 48% of the benefits but their customers pay 100% of the costs of fitting the meters – something which will not be popular when customers finally understand this.“

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