Election 2019: Energy Inefficiency, Fuelling the discussion
The election that will take place on Thursday has been framed as the most important general election in modern history. The preceding campaign has been characterised by countless divisive issues from Brexit to public spending. In an election where unity seems sparse, matters that cause the major political parties to coalesce around some semblance of the same objective are almost cause for celebration.
One such issue, is the pressing matter of fuel poverty. The parties are pledging policies ranging from a £2.5 billion Home Upgrade Grant to replace boilers and provide insulation, covering costs of up to £12,000 for up to 200,000 fuel poor households, to the creation of 14 new Regional Energy Agencies to hold statutory responsibility for decarbonising electricity and heat, thereby reducing fuel poverty.
But why is fuel poverty so important?
Current Government statistics state that over ten percent of homes in England meet the criteria of being in fuel poverty. Low-income households face the choice of either adequately heating their home, and bearing the financial strain, or they underheat their homes and suffer the potential health implications. Unfortunately, too often families are forced to choose the latter, as in 2017 to 18 there were an estimated 50,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales alone. This figure, the highest since 1976, is a blow that could at least in part be softened by combatting fuel poverty.
In comparison to other European countries, the UK and Ireland suffer more from fuel poverty than the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg, despite sharing similar average yearly temperatures. Finland, Norway and Sweden have much lower levels of fuel poverty despite sharing a much colder climate; the southern European countries have more of a struggle, however. Warmer average climates may result in poorer thermal efficiency, so that when winter does hit the heating challenge is much greater.
Potential for change
Fuel Poverty is an issue with a wide-reaching impact. Homeowners or residents in fuel poverty may be at risk of suffering in the cold, being in debt to their energy provider or not having enough money to buy food or other provisions, but there are also impacts on others besides the householder. As financial and environmental concerns become more prevalent, landlords and property developers may stand to lose existing or potential residents if they cannot provide some form of support to those suffering from fuel poverty. There is the potential for an increase in the requirements on landlords as well, raising the obligation to provide property at a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating from D to C.
Caps on energy prices have gone some way to helping those in fuel poor homes, but another key way to aid those in need is by ensuring that existing UK homes are as energy efficient as they can be. The UK Government and energy providers are currently already spending £2.1 billion a year in assisting householders to pay their energy bills, whereas a quarter of that sum total is spent annually on improving the energy efficiency of households. With election pledges to redress this balance taking centre stage of the fuel poverty discussion, the long-lasting benefits for everyone ought to become apparent, as more energy efficient homes will cost less for householders and thereby reduce the need for financial aid. Some grants and funding initiatives are already available to householders and landlords to aid in improving the energy efficiency of their homes, however arguably the challenge for future governments is ensuring those eligible are aware and can easily take advantage of the funding on offer. The common use of key meters in social housing, which usually charge approximately 10% more, can add to the issue, but without clear available funding landlords may find it difficult to move away to other, more efficient solutions.
Whilst in some cases changes can be made to the fabric and material of a home to improve energy efficiency, reviewing the technology on hand at home could offer more immediate improvements, and subsequently savings for landlords and tenants. Storage heaters and other intelligent heating solutions are available, many now with smart controls, which give landlords and householders a much higher level of awareness and control over their heating and energy expense, and subsequently their outgoings.
Fighting fuel poverty on the route to net-zero
Whilst the debate around the election has reached a consensus on few issues, another area of clear agreement is the commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by at least 2050. With buildings accounting for roughly a third of all carbon emissions, significant changes with implications on the built environment are already beginning to occur.
Improvements in the energy efficiency of new homes ties in to legislation regarding Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs). The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is EU legislation that will be carried out in the UK regardless of Brexit. It mandates that all new buildings must be Nearly Zero Energy Buildings from the 1st of January 2020. Meanwhile, the October consultation of the Future Homes Standard has recognised the need to drive for more energy efficient homes, and proposes to introduce a requirement to reduce energy emissions from new homes by between 75% and 80%. Many of the changes that the net-zero target will introduce will have a positive impact on fuel poverty, so a logical way forward is to incorporate fuel poverty considerations as a step on the path to achieving net-zero. Compliant NZEBs with efficient, intelligent heating solutions will be a significant aid in combatting fuel poverty, especially in the construction of new build social housing and affordable homes.
However, improving the energy efficiency of all homes, particularly the existing homes of those who cannot afford newer, more efficient properties, will help in combatting fuel poverty today, as well as aiding on the journey to achieve the net zero requirements. There is no single answer to how it should be done, but many potential solutions are available and fortunately are being offered from a variety of places within the political sphere ahead of Thursday’s election. Whatever the outcome, at Glen Dimplex Heating & Ventilation we can support you in finding the right ways to combat fuel poverty in your own home or those of your tenants.
We offer a range of products and services, which cover both heating and other HVAC solutions. If you would like to know more about how we and our products can enhance the habitability and affordability of a home, contact our Pre-sales team to be put in touch with your regional specialist.