Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Greg Clark, Nick Hurd or Baroness Neville-Rolfe. It’s not an easy brief, in fact it’s tough, really tough. An area filled with failed policy, over-reliance on subsidy, barriers and a broad number of policy interventions which are being flung at ministers each and every week. And we still have increasing numbers of people in the UK slipping from low incomes into fuel poverty with the coldest, “leakiest” homes in western Europe.
The signal from Treasury officials is that there’s no money in the pot, it is the end of subsidy as we know it. Best not forget to mention the fragmented voices, myriads of stakeholders all eager to push their solution as the solution to climate change, energy reduction, energy security, decarbonisation and de-risking the energy supply in this uncertain world.
Confidence in the sector is low – internally and externally. You can experience the lethargy every day from all stakeholders whether they be industry or government. This is a 'just about managing' (JAM) industry, an industry which desperately needs to be able to restore its strength, confidence and stability and to be matched by a bold and brave government and policy framework.
To ministers it cannot be clearer that this area needs government support and even intervention, a big no-no with this new Government. This industry has been decimated by bad or failed policy – policy that was not well thought-through or was just too short-term. The Green Deal burnt many fingers. We urgently need Greg Clark, Nick Hurd and Baroness Neville-Rolfe to reframe, reset and reassure this market to bring certainty in what is an uncertain time.
What would I want to see were I Energy Minister? There are a raft of solutions out there. As a minister I would feel bombarded by them, almost drowning in the sea of ideas. “But how does a solution fit together and deliver?”, I might say, wishing to see industry bringing an achievable long-term vision package to my ministerial desk that clearly outlined and addressed fuel poverty, decarbonisation, energy security, demand reduction and the health and wellbeing of consumers – and more widely addressing how we improve our housing stock, housing stock that is the coldest in western Europe. An energy minister needs to have the right information, the framework to convince Treasury. As Baroness Neville-Rolfe knows from her background in retail, industry itself is best placed to do this.
Furthermore, for too long we, as the industry, have been in denial on the reality of politics. For many years we had an easier ride with other political parties in government. This Government has policy objectives that are tightly honed on value for money and leveraging private finance and it has repeatedly communicated its desire to reduce subsidy particularly in the longer term. Conservatives have a ‘less is more’ approach to regulation with a ‘one in and three out’ policy but are also in dire need of some positive policy and an economic hit as they negotiate Brexit.
For industry, this context needs to be central to any thinking. Let’s put ourselves in the Government’s shoes. Let’s ensure we understand the political agenda and the political language: i.e. what the Government needs to do, what it wants to do and the restrictions they face in addressing the enormity of this brief.
Industry is now coming together with the forming of the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) and putting together the pieces of the jigsaw for government – a successful, high value for money infrastructure programme for energy efficiency. The reframing of this issue as an energy efficiency infrastructure programme would enable government to move away from short-term interventions, to set out an ultimate vision to get all homes up to a high standard of energy efficiency and to have an infrastructure delivery model for getting us there.
The concept is simple to understand - energy efficiency is infrastructure and it delivers economic returns comparable to other major infrastructure programmes. This approach will deliver for government, consumers and industry. With economic and social benefits which will boost the economy and bring jobs and savings for consumers, we can strengthen the UK’s energy security and stamp out fuel poverty, and finally realise decarbonisation to help the UK meet its challenging climate targets.
With cross-party support, Scotland is leading the way and has already committed to making energy efficiency an infrastructure priority supported by capital funding. My message to the minister is to take up this opportunity and do better, be bold, go further. Let’s not look at this as a social subsidy but instead as a savvy public capital investment and great value for money. Let’s, at the very least, get UK homes to Band C by 2030 to meet carbon budgets.
The EEIG will start 2017 by reframing the issue: we have commissioned a shared “20-year vision for a building energy efficiency infrastructure programme” with Frontier Economics to support energy ministers to create a long-term energy efficiency infrastructure programme for Britain. The vision will be shared across Government, with Parliamentarians and central and local government policymakers.
As an energy minister I would want to make each and every UK citizen the king (or queen) of his own, “warm” and “efficient” castle again. We must not forget the consumer is king. Let us also help the ministers deliver. As the International Energy Agency’s most recent energy efficiency market report stressed: “The greatest efficiency gains have been led by policy, and the greatest untapped potentials lie where policy is absent or inadequate.” It continues: “Harnessing the potential of energy efficiency is key to transitioning to a sustainable and secure energy system that generates prosperity for our world.” Let’s get harnessing and working with ministers to deliver the future of energy efficiency.
Sarah Kostense-Winterton is executive director of MIMA and provides the secretariat to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group
The views in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue