October 2, 2014, by Kieran Cooke
Performance gap: energy inefficiency is a problem in much of the UK’s older housing stock
Image: Martin Addison via Wikimedia Commons
Housing in the UK is among the least energy efficient in Europe – and a new survey reveals that part of the problem is that many people are ill-informed about how to save energy in their own homes. LONDON, 2 October, 2014 − We all know the easiest and most effective way to make the typical house more energy efficient in colder climates. Or do we? A survey commissioned by the National Energy Foundation (NEF), an independent organisation that works to improve the use of energy in the UK’s buildings, recently assessed how well informed people are on energy issues. Loft insulation is the answer to the above question on improving energy efficiency – yet of the more than 2,000 people questioned in the survey, less than 40% answered correctly. And while about 60% of adults in the survey felt they were well informed on energy issues, half of them could not identify the most energy efficient lighting for their homes − LED bulbs, which are said to use 90% less energy than traditional incandescent ones. Action aimed at cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions tends to focus on the power generation sector and transport. Yet buildings – both residential and commercial – account for 46% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, says NEF.
Relatively low-cost improvements to buildings, such as more insulation and LED lighting, can result in considerable energy saving. The UK has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe, with more than half of homes constructed before 1960 and only 10% built in the last 25 years. A lack of comprehensive, effectively implemented building regulations means even newly-constructed dwellings are often sub-standard in terms of energy efficiency. “Newly-constructed buildings typically use between 2.5 and 4.5 times as much energy as predicted – a phenomenon now being called the performance gap,” says Kerry Mashford, NEF’s chief executive. “Changes to the way we design, deliver and operate buildings can close this gap dramatically. The trouble is that many don’t know where to start, what to do, or even that such a problem exists.” It is estimated that the average UK household is responsible for emitting about 10 tonnes of CO2 a year, although there are wide disparities between high and low income earners, with the richest 10% emitting three times more than the poorest 10%, according to a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. More than five million households in the UK – about a fifth of the total − suffer fuel poverty, which is defined as homes where more than 10% of total income is spent on keeping warm.
The Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE), a group of companies involved in energy conservation issues, ranks the UK as “the cold man of Europe” – the worst for fuel poverty out of 13 western European countries, and near the bottom of the league on a number of other household energy indicators. “The UK ranks so low despite the fact that it has among the lowest gas and electricity prices in Europe and relatively high household incomes compared to the other countries,” ACE says. David Cameron, the UK prime minister, said early last year he wanted to make Britain the most energy efficient country in Europe. “Far from being a drag on growth, making our energy sources more sustainable, our energy consumption more efficient and our economy more resilient to energy price shocks – those things are a vital part of the growth and wealth that we need,” he said. The European Union has said that the greatest energy saving potential in Europe – and one of the easiest ways to cut back on CO2 emissions – is through the construction of more energy-efficient buildings. – Climate News Network
Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues