Page last updated at 01:15 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

UK energy saving policy 'failing'

By Mark Kinver
Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Thermal image of a house (Image: Science Photo Library)
The Energy Saving Trust wants to see less heat and more action

The UK government is failing to support its own measures designed to deliver energy savings, an expert has warned.

Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust (EST), said local authorities needed more funds in order to ensure savings were being made.

While ministers were quick to promote new policies such as "zero carbon homes", existing building regulations were not being upheld, he added.

Under EU commitments, the UK has to deliver 20% energy savings by 2020.

"To me, this highlights a real gap between the aspiration to do something appropriate and the actual delivery on the ground," Mr Sellwood told BBC News.

"If it were just a matter of policy announcements, the UK would be up among the leading countries.

"Our building regulations in the UK are among some of the toughest in Europe, but they are extremely poorly enforced as far as energy efficiency goes."

Simple fixes

He said research showed that, in some cases, up to 30% of properties being built would fail existing building regulations.

"When you think that we are putting a lot of reliance on meeting our CO2 reduction targets by increasing the toughness of our building regulations, this is a real concern."

Row of terraced houses (Getty Images)

The Climate Change Act, which became law late last year, requires future governments to cut carbon dioxide by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Households in the UK are estimated to be responsible for almost 20% of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that failure to cut CO2 emitted by homes will threaten any attempt to achieve the legally binding target.

Mr Sellwood said the failings were occurring in areas that did not require technical expertise.

"It is simple things like people not fitting windows or doors correctly. Instead of getting energy efficiency, we are getting energy inefficiencies."

He added that there were too few inspections being carried out in order to spot the shortfalls.

He warned that the current situation on the ground did not bode well for the government's commitment that all new homes from 2016 had to be "zero carbon".

"If there is no proper enforcement of the building regulations, we won't know if what has been built is the same as what was promised."

To overcome the shortfall in building inspectors, Mr Sellwood said that it was important for local authorities to receive the necessary resources in order to uphold the regulations.

Acting smart

Another policy area he said that was failing to live up to expectations involved "smart meters".

"A short while ago, the government announced that it was going to implement a programme of installing smart meters in people's homes," he explained.

Smart meter display screen (Image: More Associates)
Studies have shown that smart meters can cut bills by up to 10%

"This would allow the household to indentify their energy use and obviously take measures to reduce it.

"Since then, there has been silence from the government.

"It could be as long as five to 10 years before we see any tangible change in the number of smart meters in people's homes."

He added that studies in other countries had shown that smart meters had helped cut energy consumption by up to 10%.

The technology, he suggested, would have a number of benefits. Firstly, it would help people save money in a time of financial uncertainty and high energy prices.

Secondly, it would help reduce the demand for energy and cut carbon emissions.

As well as criticising the UK government, the EST has also voiced concerns about possible plans to change the EU's energy efficiency labelling scheme for household goods and appliances.

Mr Sellwood said the current A-G rating system could be replaced by another scheme, even though research suggested that most people recognised it and understood how the A-G format worked.

"We think that the EU has enough on its plate at the moment without trying to change this," he said.

"It is a case of 'if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it'."

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