The real reason our energy bills are so high
01 December, 2013 Griffin Carpenter

Over the weekend, the coalition made it clear what we can expect from Thursday’s Autumn Statement response to soaring energy bills. A good old fashioned nip and tuck job:

  • NIP – they’ll allow energy companies to take twice as long implementing the ECO community obligations to energy-proof low income houses, effectively cutting bills by an average of £50 a year
  • TUCK – they’ll set up a new taxpayer funded initiative offering people £1000 for energy efficiency measures when they buy a new home. Landlords will also be offered cash incentives to insulate their least energy-efficient properties in-between tenants, though we don’t yet know the details.

But it’s going to take a lot more than cosmetic enhancement to solve our energy bills problem. So far, both Labour and the Coalition have kept quiet on one key point:

UK energy prices are among the cheapest in Europe. One of the main reasons the UK has the second highest rate of fuel poverty in the EU is that we have the oldest building stock in Europe and have lost out on massive improvements in energy efficiency. (The other key reason is that we have disproportionately high numbers of low income Brits.)

While UK building standards are now in line with, or better than many of our neighbouring countries, we are the only country in the EU where the majority of our building stock was built pre-1960.

A home built to code in 1960 loses around three times as much heat as one built to code today, so the age of the stock is hugely important to energy efficiency. While it may seem counterintuitive, new construction often saves energy as the energy from building materials (the embodied energy) averages around 10% of energy that is consumed during the lifetime of the home.

If our government is serious about tackling our energy bills and meeting our climate targets it needs to think long and hard about how to bring our housing supply into the 21st century.

Plus, we need more, not less support for energy efficiency schemes. Those within the energy efficiency industry are quick to point out problems with the current ECO framework but the key is that these schemes require more, not less support and power. Constant chopping and changing of energy efficiency schemes like ECO means the green sector is looking less and less of a safe bet to investors. Already, the Association for the Conservation of Energy has estimated that changes will cost 10,000 jobs in the insulation industry, mostly in small firms.

What’s more, the changes are side-stepping our fuel poverty problem. The Office for National Statistics recently released new figures showing cold weather caused an estimated 31,000 additional deaths in England and Wales last year. Watering down the very schemes that are trying to help the fuel poor bring down their bills in long run makes no sense at all.

The dangers of climate change and the UK’s failure to address fuel poverty demand so much more from our government. Less nip and tuck – our energy policy needs is a total brain transplant.

This blog was originally published by the New Economics Foundation.