Smart Energy GB has recently launched its Missing Piece campaign – highlighting energy efficiency as the missing element in the fight to mitigate against the effects of climate change. In particular, it notes that we will continue to be behind on the national target to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 without a greater stress on using less.
The campaign draws on some research Energy Saving Trust carried out along with the University of Salford. It features some striking stats, not least the fact that if every household took energy efficiency measures now, we could achieve 11 per cent of the UK's 2050 carbon target.
Despite experts like the Committee on Climate Change agreeing that we need to make major cuts in energy demand to stay within our carbon budgets, energy efficiency, particularly in the domestic sector, doesn’t receive the same attention as other pieces of the climate puzzle.
The energy we use at home represents over a quarter of nationwide total energy use, so it makes sense to put a renewed focus on what will make a difference on the home front.
But how does energy efficiency affect climate change? Quite simply, by reducing demand, we reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned to generate energy. A report from Verco and Cambridge Econometrics emphasised the scale of the opportunity: investment in energy efficiency could result in a 26% reduction in natural gas imports by 2030, worth £2.7billion.
This is not just about cutting emissions either – it would also increase the UK’s resilience in terms of energy supply and reduce vulnerability to the ever-more volatile fossil fuels markets.
A key focus of the report is bringing all the UK’s homes up to energy performance certificate (EPC) band C by 2035 through reasonable measures like installing insulation and more efficient heating systems. Should the government invest in programmes to support these measures, analysis suggests this would be money well spent, with a £3.20 return in GDP for every £1 put in – a ratio defined as high value for money.
Of course, Smart Energy GB’s campaign, with its much-needed focus on energy efficiency, aims to promote people and businesses install smart meters and the development of connected energy systems more broadly. These are noble goals – but we need to be smart about how we use smart meters if we’re going to make the most of them. We will only see the full benefits of smart metering and a digital infrastructure if energy efficiency measures and improved behaviours accompany its onset.
Energy Saving Trust welcomes the installation of smart meters and the more visual and interactive relationship with home energy that they bring. But smart meter installation needs to go hand in hand with good quality advice to support people to use energy more efficiently. Newer, second generation smart meters which allow easier energy supplier switching and compatibility with services should help us manage out energy better, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cost.
If it’s savings now you’re looking for, regardless of whether you’ve a smart meter installed yet or not, there’s no better starting point than insulation – and every installation moves your home higher up those EPC ratings. While many lofts are now filled, it’s often not up to the recommended 270mm. Then there’s still walls, floors, pipework and draught-proofing to think about.
Making sure heating systems are the most efficient possible is also an excellent way of making big cost and emissions reductions at home – whether that’s a condensing gas boiler, the latest, controllable electric storage heaters or a renewable heating system like a heat pump. Even if you can’t finance a change of system, getting your heating under control with room thermostats, thermostatic radiator valves and a programmer will have a significant impact.
With climate, health and cost benefits at stake, it is high time that energy efficiency is fully acknowledged as a crucial part of the fight for a more sustainable future.