When we think of buildings and homes what springs to mind? A physical construction, a shelter with a roof, windows and doors where people live or work? Is a home the same as a building or is a home a more emotional thing – a building yes, but one with which we have a connection. Does it make us think of comfort, warmth, security, family, a stable foundation?
Perhaps it’s a reflection of my 30 years' working in the energy industry and my involvement in fuel poverty and similar challenges, but when I think of a home I think of heat leaking out of the roof, doors and windows like water from a dripping tap. I think of comfort, warmth and energy security and how they could be improved. I think not just of family but of how the health of those families could be improved. I think of how a home provides a foundation not just for existing families but for our environment and future generations and why the opportunity must not be missed to make our homes cheaper to heat, healthier and more sustainable.
Homes (and buildings) are the foundation of our modern society. They are where we work, where we learn, and the refuge we retire to at the end of the day but they are more than that, they are of paramount importance as we strive to reduce energy bills, increase industrial competitiveness and protect the environment for future generations.
Heat and energy efficiency are inextricably linked and it is therefore only by taking a whole house holistic approach that we will make our buildings healthier, cheaper and more sustainable. We need to ‘wrap’ our buildings (by improving the energy efficiency performance of the building fabric) then heat them sustainably and efficiently. In doing so we improve our health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate industry and increase prosperity for us all.
There is no single solution to the challenge of heating the UK’s homes. We must take an objective ‘whole house approach’ that recognises that energy efficiency and heat are integral and interconnected parts of the energy challenge and also its solution. Increasing the energy efficiency of the building fabric helps to maximise the gain from efficient and low carbon heating solutions; to address one without the other leads to sub-optimal results for homeowners, investors and Government.
Our homes are not just important to individuals or families, they are important to the economy and the environment more widely. Domestic energy efficiency is of huge importance: the UK's 28 million homes account for 30% of energy use and 12% of carbon emissions. Within the UK 2.38 million households are living in fuel poverty. Energy efficiency and low carbon heating are also important for job creation, growth and skills development.
The installation of low carbon heating and energy efficiency measures often uses local labour and the investment has the potential to boost employment and economic growth. There is also potential for longer-term benefits resulting from the lowering of energy bills which enable higher disposable income for domestic consumers and a reduction in running costs for business, the benefits of which can be spent elsewhere in the economy. The geographic spread of demand means that the supply chains and manufacturers that support the energy efficiency industry are likely to be located outside wealthy areas and provide sustainable jobs across the UK.
Achieving mass market engagement in energy efficiency will stimulate opportunities not only for the technology manufacturers and suppliers, but also for the many small- to medium-sized businesses providing and installing heating systems, insulation and glazing. These are the very entrepreneurs, self-starters and employers that are key to the growth of the UK economy.
In its 2016 report ‘Better homes: incentivising home energy improvements’, Bright Blue highlighted that the sector of the UK low-carbon economy which creates the highest number of jobs is energy efficiency, employing 155,000 people in 2014 and that increased take-up of home energy improvements would increase employment and economic activity in the UK. It is estimated that the economic impact of raising all homes to a band C on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) would be the creation of 108,000 net jobs per annum between 2020 and 2030, and an increase in relative GDP of 0.6% by 2030.
So at a time when the Government is focussed on national productivity and developing an industrial strategy, it is vital that the role that energy efficiency and sustainable technologies can play in the success of that strategy is recognised. The development of the industrial strategy offers an opportunity to provide a framework for a long-term, stable policy landscape which encourages the deployment of low-carbon, efficient technologies in our homes and buildings. The Sustainable Energy Association is therefore calling on the Government to recognise the importance of energy efficiency within the strategy by setting a clear target to bring all domestic buildings up to EPC band C by 2030.
This would help make our homes healthier, cheaper and more sustainable, and perhaps then we can all think of comfort, warmth, security, family, and a stable foundation, when we think of our ‘home’.
Lesley Rudd is Acting Chief Executive of the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA). The SEA is a campaign organisation supported by business and public interests from a cross section of the energy in buildings sector. If anyone would like to support the SEA campaign to bring domestic buildings up to EPC band C please contact the author.
The views in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue