Transforming the UK's Old Housing Stock

23 April 2008

Photo: Julian Jackson

The UK's poorly insulated, energy inefficient housing stock could be
easily transformed into cheaper to run, low carbon homes by the end of
the next decade. But a new report by WWF-UK How Low shows that
without a radical shift in Government policy the UK is set to miss out on the biggest
opportunity to cut household energy bills, and reduce CO2 emissions. The
first-ever modelling of the country's entire housing stock shows that
solid wall insulation and low and zero carbon technologies such as
ground source heat pumps and solar water heating are key to greening our
homes and getting the UK on track to meet its emission reduction targets
for 2020.

Simon McWhirter, WWF-UK One Planet Future Campaign Manager said:
”Our homes are the low hanging fruit in terms of achieving the deep
cuts we need in carbon emissions but the Government is currently
investing inadequate resources in inappropriate places. Its short term
vision as to what energy efficiency measures should be applied to our
existing stock is leading to significant missed opportunities.”

Photo: Julian Jackson

Current Government policy is heavily reliant upon homeowners installing
measures it defines as ‘cost-effective'. These include cavity wall,
loft, and hot water cylinder insulation, draught proofing, efficient
boilers, and heating controls. Uptake of these measures has been
historically poor in the UK and Alistair Darling's 2008 Budget notably
omitted to include any financial incentives which could encourage their
wider take up by homeowners. WWF's How Low report shows that even if
all homes did install these measures, household CO2 emissions would be
reduced by just 22 per cent, failing to meet the Government's own 2020
climate change targets.

Colin Butfield, WWF-UK Head of Campaigns said:  “Given the urgency of
the issue the Government needs to look beyond the short payback energy
efficiency measures that feature in current policy and focus on a
broader package of measures that will provide greater long term savings
for homeowners. Channelling support and resources into low and zero
carbon technology to facilitate their roll-out nationwide will not only
enable the UK to surpass its 2020 emission reduction targets but will
further set us on track to reduce CO2 emissions by the necessary 80 per
cent by 2050.”

Nationwide installation of low and zero carbon technologies will
require a significant programme of training, investment, and policy
support by the Government but this will more than pay back, both in
terms of increased efficiency of the housing stock, and a greater
skilled workforce. In tandem with these support policies, it is vital
that homeowners are provided financial support to help them afford the
installation of technologies such as solar heating and ground source
heat pumps.

The Government should introduce a range of financial
incentives that will motivate more homeowners to improve the energy
efficiency of their homes. These could include low interest loans,
council tax rebates or stamp duty relief tied to home energy efficiency
refurbishments, and robust feed-in tariffs which reward homeowners who
generate their own electricity from micro-renewables. Some of these
schemes have already been successfully introduced elsewhere in Europe.

There should also be a revision of the obligations on energy suppliers
to ensure they support the roll out of solid wall insulation and low and
zero carbon technologies.

Photo: UK House with PV and Solar thermal panels

The How Low report concludes that it is feasible for the UK to meet
CO2 emission reduction targets of 80 per cent in the domestic housing
sector by 2050. To achieve this would require a rapid and extensive roll
out of micro-renewables, the decarbonisation of electricity supply by
roll-out of large-scale renewable energy projects and, potentially,
application of carbon capture and storage technology. It would also
require an improvement in the energy efficiency of appliances, and more
carbon-conscious behaviour in the home. Whilst this does mean
considerable extra investment now, it is minimal compared to the cost of
doing nothing.

Full Report: http://www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/how_low_report.pdf%20

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