How much energy do you need to live in your house?
This is a really hard question, because in making it about how much you actually need – rather than how much you currently use – introduces lots of things which will be different for everyone.
1. Some of these are about your circumstances; are you at home during the day? Do you have small children or other reasons to need your home to be warmer than average?
2. Some of these are about your own behaviour; do you leave your TV on? Do you have your thermostat too high, or too low? Do you turn lights off? Are you on the best tariff?
3. Others are about your property itself; do you have a new boiler? Efficient lighting? Is your home insulated?
All of these are factors, and differences in the way that we live our daily lives have a huge impact on the amoung of energy we use as individuals and as a country. We are constantly being told to switch to get the best deal. All well and good – it is important to be a responsible consumer. It is important to make sure that we are not wasteful in our habits.
But all of this needs to be viewed through the lense of the circumstances we are in, which are very hard to change. The holy grail is to make sure that we don’t waste energy that we don’t need to, but also to make sure that our homes and appliances are as efficient as they can be. This means if we can actually reduce the amount of energy we need to begin with, then having the right tariff will mean we are getting a good deal. But we will be getting that deal on less energy as well – a double win.
Without attention to this, even if we are model energy citizens, our homes will be letting us down and costing us money.
Ultimately government needs to take a stand in this infrastructure discussion. Our homes are built to standards set by government. There was not a requirement for „thermal performance“ to be included until 1965. This standard has since improved many times over.
If our homes are falling behind the times, because technology has improved and building practices have changed, Government has a role in helping people to access new technology and building techniques to help keep them warm.
The long awaited policy paper on energy efficiency, An End to Cold Homes, was announced by Labour at Autumn Conference, and published in November for consultation. It sets out a number of welcome steps, including making Energy Efficiency a National Infrastructure Priority. However, it is working from a low base. Current energy efficiency policies and Government spending have the least ambition we have seen for decades.
The 2010 – 15 Parliament is the first for nearly 30 years where there has been no taxpayer funded scheme to provide insulation for the fuel poor and help people save money. Moreover, the policies designed to meet this shortfall are too complicated or poorly designed to really fill the gap.
So before even looking at the detail of proposed energy efficiency policy in the Cold Homes paper, it faces a significant problem; existing spending falls short of existing ambitions. Greater ambition is a long way beyond what is currently on the table.
This means that with the constraints of current policy and current spending, there nothing to be said in pre-election policy debates to get others to step up to the plate.
Yes making warm homes an infrastructure priority is an important step, and yes policy can be made to work better by being less complex and more delivery oriented – though waiting two years may be too long. But even if both of these things are done as well as can be, these future policies are likely to be helping less people than under the last Labour Government.
Energy policy is complex, it is hard to change, and it affects everyone. It is for all of these reasons that an opposition party, campaigning on a clear social justice and cost of living agenda, should really look at what they can fundamentally change to make a difference.
This winter, millions of people will be given extra cash by the Government, even if they can already afford their heating bills.
Means testing the winter fuel payment has many things both for and against it as a policy change. For instance, it is important to make sure that those who need it, really do get it. But when policy is already failing to deliver, and there is little money to go around, it is right for all things to be considered and debated. Currently there is little debate, because policy proposals are theoretical, and for after 2017.
This is not enough.
Spending constraint in a time of fiscal uncertainty is good. Recognising where real social benefits can be best achieved and prioritising funding accordingly is better.