Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The home energy efficiency ceiling

Is there really little more that householders can do to save energy, than they are doing already?

Over the last two decades, the proportion of domestic energy consumption has risen to over 30% of total UK energy consumption, and continues to rise. This is despite the Energy Efficiency Commitment, and the work of the Energy Advice Centres.

In the UK, most energy advice centres work by having householders fill out a standard questionairre. The aim is to offer, on that basis, advice on saving energy both to reduce fuel poverty and stop people dying in the winter (much better now, thanks Gordon, for the winter fuel payments), and to reduce the carbon and other environmental loads.

There is one advice centre which doesn't rely on this questionairre, and that's in Brent, north London. Its director is Roger Kelly.

Roger says that instead his team go and talk to householders over the course of a year, to find out exactly how they do use energy. He says "Every household is different. A standard questionairre cannot hope to find out the details, and how progress is being made in each house."

So what has he found? Apart from the fact that most people don't give energy a second thought (or even a first one), it's that we may have reached the ceiling on what we can do to save energy.

"Every little saving we make is cancelled out by people buying more and more electrical and electronic goods," he says.

"Moreover, most people already have done the basic insulation stuff. They have 100mm of loft insulation. We've calculated that upgrading this to 250mm, the current standard, only saves £8-£10 a year. And, since they've probably nailed chipboard onto the joists, which would have to be doubled in depth to allow space for the extra insulation, and filled their lofts with junk, they don't want to do it.

"Also, much of their energy use is transport, and we don't even get around to talking about that."

"I really think we may have hit the ceiling on energy efficiency in the home."

He does say that in the last six months, the number of enquiries he gets has shot through the roof, as prices have risen and there's been more talk of climate change.

But this doesn't translate to much in the way of savings. "People are interested in solar panels and wind turbines - microgeneration - until they find out how much it costs and how little the grants are."

Is Roger pessimistic about the future then?

"I think there's little we can do about climate change until we get a really big crisis and we are absolutely forced to. But I do enjoy my job, and have natural human optimism.

"I'm a grandfather now - twice - and it really makes me think about the kind of world these children are going to be adults in."

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