Reducing the United Kingdom’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Homes

The United Kingdom’s Climate Change and Energy Secretary, Mr Ed Miliband, has been announcing some “policies” which are intended at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by households. He intends to do this project by incremental steps. The plan is for all 23 million UK households to be “near zero carbon emissions by 2050. That time scale is probably far too long if we are to make any impact in reducing carbon emissions – the mathematics of the problem proves that. Nevertheless it is a laudable aim even if the time scale is twenty or thirty years too long.

Insulation will be a starting point with all homes being insulated, eventually. Insulation reduces heat waste and therefore reduces energy wastage which in turn reduces carbon emissions. Not using energy unnecessarily (forgive the negative expression of the concept) is one of the four principles governing energy that I established in “the Energy Age”.

Mr Miliband intends to offer householders money to install efficiency and microgeneration, with the benefits attaching to the property, rather than the individual. I mooted this idea in 2002 in “A Concise Guide to Energy in the United Kingdom” when I suggested that a simple way of providing these benefits is that the benefits that pass with the property, rather than be subject to a one off grant, and that the easiest way of doing this is for the property that is fitted with microgeneration to have a fixed long term annual council tax reduction.

I think Mr Miliband has a different and more complicated scheme in mind, probably because if you provide a long term council tax rebate for some properties, others will have to have a council tax hike – you cannot stealthily increase council tax. Nevertheless, whichever way the incentive is made (or the reduction is offered) it will encourage microgeneration installation provided that the scheme is not complicated and not expensive to administer and does not delay the sales and installation of microgeneration while officials ponder whether a householder has ticked all the boxes.

It is a disgrace that applying for the modest and highly conditional solar thermal grants of £400 (which cost most householders more than £400 to qualify for the grant) takes twenty five working days. Any actual incentive programme is probably several years away. The Government are constantly being advised by experts that they must give climate change a higher priority, and they seem reluctant to do this; the economy, bankers’ bonuses, the odd war and the possibility of a general election all take priority over climate change.

Where do we go from here, even though the journey may take a long time? I think that the government will still use the existing stealth tax on domestic energy (although you will soon see the “tax” shown as a separate item on your energy bills), because that seems to be a good way of collecting some of the money needed to install microgeneration and insulation. In effect they Government as using the energy companies as a tax collector.

Taxing energy and spending the money on renewables is a good idea and it accords perfectly with another one of my principles about energy – that the polluter should pay. There is no need to raise this tax by stealth – the people of the United Kingdom are mature enough and well educated enough to understand the need to spend money to reduce greenhouse gases. They will want to see that the money is spent effectively, not simply by giving it to thsoe industries with the most influence.

I expect that there will be a change in the spending of the money collected. At the moment the obligation is on the energy companies to spend it on “measures” which usually means free or subsided insulation and low energy light bulbs. This creates a direct conflict of interest; the energy companies are obliged to find ways to reduce their turnover and profit.

I think it is better (and there are signs from the government that this will happen) tp hypothecate all of the money raised for renewables to a government agency which has an obligation to spend it all with the minimum of administration by initially directing those incentives 100% at the poor and needy, rather than the present 50%.

There also needs to be a seperate scheme administered to incentivise householders who own their homes to deploy and install renewables. In the past eight years I have not changed my views about the simplest and most cost effective way of doing this – through a  council tax reduction for the lifetime of the installation; it will be simple to administer and the qualification criteria should also be specific to the renewables (low energy lighting and insulation have nothing to do with solar water heating, for example) and we can create a position where every home qualifies automatically and they must simply use all products that are approved in the European Union and use a qualified installer. The framework is up and running to get this in place immediately – it just needs the political will.

These changes should be provided for immediately; they will significantly reduce our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and provide better energy security. They will boost employment with long term real jobs for which people can be easily and inexpensively trained.

In reality Mr Miliband should be planning for the step after the next step; once there is a proper incentive, subsidy and series of carrots in place the next step is to legislate to mandate microgeneration on every single home in the United Kingdom. That is envitable if we are to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from households.

10 Responses

  1. I like the simpicity of a council tax rebate for homeowners who install renewable energy devices, however I think it needs to be costed carefully and also this would affect provision of local government services if these rebates were not refunded by central government.

    However given that there is no subsidy for the installation of gas central heating sytems, why should private homeowners be subsidised? I would agree that the social housing of the UK should be a target to have renewable energy and when solar thermal becomes more commonplace then it will become mainstream and then it will be unusual to see a house without solar panels just like Germany.

    • Private householders should be subisidised becasue they are, by installation microgeneration, providing several public benefits; they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the infrastructural requirment of the UK energy network, by buying a bit of their own infrastructure, and we should recognise the good they do. Finally, people need an incentive to part with their hard earned money for the common good.

  2. Robert – I was looking forward to your take on the Heat and Energy Saving Strategy, announced last week.

    However, I got to this bit (3rd paragraph):

    ‘…suggesting that a simple way of providing these benefits that would enure to the property of householders is by a fixed long term annual council tax reduction.’

    …and thought maybe the C02 levels in your neck of the woods had hit a new peak.

    By the time I’d reached this point (7th paragraph):

    ‘There is no need to raise this tax by stealth – the people of the United Kingdom are mature enough and well education enough to understand the ened to spend money to reduce greenhouse gases’

    …I thought, perhaps as a philanthropic gesture, you’d outsourced your writing to one of the developing countries.

    As my english teacher often wrote in my textbooks: “Not good enough. See me.”

    😉

  3. […] Andrew wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe United Kingdom’s Climate Change and Energy Secretary, Mr Ed Miliband, has been announcing some “policies” which are intended at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by households. He intends to do this project by incremental steps. … […]

  4. Robert,

    “See me after School” !

    I wonder if EPC has any comments about my spelling and Grammar, because I’m Dyslexic! Also you and also myself don’t really have high opinions of teachers! I have read ‘The conversion of Paul’ and also there was the point about the GCSE exams that had the opinion that solar thermal panels would not function in the UK.

    Because it is Bully Robert day today may i say that there is also an error in the ‘Energy Age’ I Spotted on page 163:
    Early Thermal Solar Apparatus > Second paragraph >

    “…Clarence Kemp ‘sold’ heating salesmen from Baltimore, became fascinated by the concept of solar water heating and used his engineering skills to design then market…”

    “See me after School” !

    I found Clarence Kemp here with some nice old Solar Thermal Fotos:
    http://www.californiasolarcenter.org/history_solarthermal.html

    • Mea Culpa.
      When you write books, however carefully you try, however many copy readers and editors you havethe book always falls open at they typo!
      Peter, teachers are good, and everyone needs to be corrected. No problem at all with EPC’s comment. Let’s keep my feet on the ground.

  5. Robert, actually I did not read many errors in your book or your blog which you are writing very fast keeping upto date with current events, ! My OU course text-book has several errata in every chapter! I have been sent a double sided A4 listing Errata from week one! Quite significant possibly dangerous mistakes ! eg;

    “..The pressure of the water entering the feed pump at the left should be ’10kpa’ and not ’10Mpa…”

    I’m referencing quite a lot from ‘Energy Age’ for my first essay, because it’s easier having read the whole book.

  6. The Government has released it’s information about their Free Insulation Rebate for more information on the criteria see FREE INSULATION
    or download it here
    Free Insulation Guidelines

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