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Successive UK Governments have failed to provide a long-term, effective strategy to deal with our ageing building stock. No wonder the energy crisis is so severe.

It’s now a familiar story: energy company raises prices, energy company makes record profits, public uproar ensues.

But while it’s British Gas today, it’ll be E.ON tomorrow, and the day after that, sadly, it’ll be one of the ‘good guys’ like Ecotricity or Good Energy. Because even if their energy is 40% or 100% green, its price is still dictated by wholesale gas prices.

It’s understandable that the Big Six get bashed by consumer groups looking out for the welfare of the poorest (and coldest) in society. However, the sad reality is that the price of energy for the average consumer is far too cheap, both in terms of what a unit enables us to do and also in terms of the impact it has on our environment.

Try saying that as a politician (or an energy company representative), however, and you’ll be facing a PR disaster of the highest order.

So what’s the solution?

Homes.1 bn house2 (1) bn

The elephant in the room is our terribly inefficient building stock. While the Green Deal deserves some time to get established and may well help a certain type of homeowner, it’ll be years before it makes any meaningful impact (if at all). Years that we don’t have.

The severity of the situation merits a more radical approach. For example, there seems to be no coherent strategy to deal with the millions of solid walled homes in the UK. Each costs around £10k to properly insulate, and many people are understandably hesitant to let builders into their homes to complete two months of noisy building work.

Do we really envisage many of these outdated buildings still serving our needs in 30 or 40 years’ time? If not, then should we be spending millions of pounds and immense effort insulating them in the next decade?

A 2008 report suggests that demolition and new build causes more lifetime emissions than retrofit. But we know it’s possible to have buildings that emit 80% less carbon than conventional ones.

Frustratingly a PassivHaus only costs around 10% more to build than a standard home (and is obviously cheaper to run), but poor building regulations mean they remain a ‘radical’ option in the UK.

Instead of 21st century building regulations that would keep us all warm and energy consumption low, the Prime Minister promises to put us on the cheapest available tariff. This political gimmick has only confused the industry and is another example of how UK Governments have sought a short-term, political get-out instead of tackling the underlying problems of the energy crisis.     

To solve the energy crisis we need to start with where the energy is being used: in our buildings.


Laurence Webb is Content Editor at amee. He holds an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London.

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